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All Things Being Relative: Relatively Speaking

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With the writing talents of Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen, featuring performances by an ensemble that includes Marlo Thomas, Steve Guttenberg, and Julie Kavner, under the direction of John Turturro, the 3 one-acters that comprise Relatively Speaking at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre are exactly as you would expect, very funny. On Wednesday, my husband and I, fans of all three writers, enjoyed a fine night of theater, as good as can be. A delicious debate ensued. Which was best?

We did not agree. In the Coen play, "Talking Cure," a prison inmate, Larry (an excellent Danny Hoch) talks to his shrink (Jason Kravits). As in many such sessions, not much happens. But then the stage gives way to a dining room in the '50s, a flashback to a pregnant woman and her husband awaiting guests for dinner. They also await Larry. In their talk, the name Hitler is invoked-a lot. Does this explain why Larry, years later is talking to his shrink in prison? This was my husband's favorite.

In Elaine May's one-acter, "George is Dead," Marlo Thomas is Doreen, a J.A.P. femme enfante who before your very eyes sheds her upscale coiffed veneer quickly becoming an old kid in pigtails and a nightie. Her husband has just died in a ski accident in Aspen. Newly widowed, what should she do? She finds refuge in the apartment of her former nanny's daughter Carla (Lisa Emery) who has troubles of her own. Thomas' comic timing -- Thomas as a bleached blond! -- is such that the surprises come full throttle, a side splitting event, putting me in mind of her book, Growing Up Laughing (which I highly recommend), and her advice: if you want to laugh, plan for it. Be among people who are funny. Need I say more?

Agreed that the Woody Allen piece is the most full of shtick, his "Honeymoon Motel" is an ensemble one-door Feydeau-like farce which starts out with a couple, the handsome Steve Guttenberg with a much younger blond (Ari Graynor) gearing up for wedding bliss in a tacky round-bedded suite with Jacuzzi. Soon everyone joins them: his son and her parents, the rabbi, a shrink. Oh, and by the way, his wife Judy (Caroline Aaron) with ball-busting bravura. I know. I know.

In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you that my husband and I will host the wedding of our daughter this coming weekend. My opinion may be colored by this event. As I write these words, she has just picked a fight with me that has resulted in a full-blown screaming tantrum. Hers. I am still writing. Enter my husband. Vaguely deaf and sensing trouble, he asks me, "What did you do to her?" I think I am still at the theater.

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