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'Relatively Speaking' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

October 21, 2011 |  3:07 pm

Relatively

"Relatively Speaking" -- the new Broadway omnibus production featuring three short plays by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May -- boasts more A-list writing talent per square foot than any other show in New York. With John Turturro on board as the director, comic expectations are through the roof.

The production officially opened this week at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with a cast that includes Steve Guttenberg, Julie Kavner, Mark Linn-Baker and Caroline Aaron (for Allen's "Honeymoon Hotel"); Marlo Thomas, Lisa Emery and Grant Shaud (for May's "George Is Dead"); and Danny Hoch, Jason Kravits and Katherine Borowitz (for Coen's "Talking Cure").

Earlier this month, actor Fred Melamed departed Coen's "Talking Cure" reportedly because Coen wasn't altogether pleased with his approach to the part of a rabbinical figure. The production had already begun previews when the actor vacated his role.

"Relatively Speaking" marks the first time a piece by Allen has reached Broadway since "The Floating Lightbulb" in 1981.

How did critics react to the show? To put it simply, it's a good thing these writers are already as well established as they are. Otherwise, their careers might not have withstood the critical cream pies being flung in their direction.

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney was unimpressed by the production, writing that this "featherweight package makes a flimsy case for the star power of writers." The strongest of the three plays is May's "George is Dead," while the least convincing is Coen's "Talking Cure," whose "25 pointless minutes land with a thud."

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal gave a harsher assessment, calling the production "disastrous... a bunch of talented people got conned into roasting this three-legged turkey, starting with John Turturro, the director."

Time Out New York's David Cote described the show as "tedious" and "horribly stale."  He also noted a parallel between Allen's play -- in which a father elopes with his prospective daughter-in-law -- and Allen's own "quasi-incestuous" past.

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times took a more charitable view than most, describing the show as an "enjoyable if lightweight diversion," one that brings back the "old-fashioned boulevard comedy" of yesteryear. Allen's contribution to the show feels like he had "stored up a trunk full of choice one-liners that he's been cutting from screenplays or jotting down at random for years and has decided to unleash them all in this blizzard of broad farce."

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-- David Ng

Photo: Marlo Thomas, left, and Lisa Emery in Elaine May's contribution to "Relatively Speaks" at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York. Credit: Joan Marcus

 

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