BWW Review: RELATIVELY SPEAKING Is a Funny Farce at Main Street Theater
RELATIVELY SPEAKING was the first big success for Alan Ayckbourn, the prolific English playwright who has become a master of the divorce and dysfunction comedy. It premiered all the way back in 1965 and enjoyed a huge West End run in 1967. Main Street Theater revives the fiftysomething-year-old farce for the month of May, and they capture everything great about the script and the concept. An outstanding cast takes on a very funny book, and the result is shimmering perfection that is just what audiences need to kick off the summer season. It's like ice cream for the theater world.
The play begins in the London flat of Ginny, a sexually progressive young lady who is currently dating Greg, a young man with marriage on his mind. Greg feels uncomfortable knowing Ginny is far more romantically experienced than he, but he still wants to marry and commit to a lifetime with her. The only trouble is strange floral arrangements and candy keep showing up at the door. Also, he has found a pair of slippers under the bed that are not his. Ginny tries to placate him, and sets off to a trip to "visit her parents." Greg attempts to follow. But the real truth is Ginny is going to break it off with her older boss who she is having an affair with. The last half of the play takes place in the well-appointed garden of the older boss and involves multiple cases of mistaken identity as well as a clumsy reveal of the truth to chosen parties.
Main Street Theater always has a knack for assembling great casts and placing them on well-appointed sets, and RELATIVELY SPEAKING is no exception. The younger couple of Greg and Ginny are played by Blake Weir and Lindsay Ehrhardt. They have excellent chemistry and possess a nice sense of sly comic timing that endears the audience immediately. The bulk of the show rests on them, and they are certainly strong enough actors to make this farce spin like a top. The older couple of Philip and Sheila are portrayed by Thomas Prior and Kara Greenberg. They also offer up a buoyant sense of the British banter and comedy needed to pull out the finale. I especially enjoyed Kara Greenberg's Sheila, as she gives the wife a modern sheen despite the dated script. The actress makes the older woman far more elegant and intelligent than I have ever seen her before. Thomas Prior plays flustered and infatuated extremely well, and his Philip is solid and well crafted. This ensemble couldn't be better, and they had the audience smiling and laughing from start to finish.
Technically things are spot on as well. Liz Freese manages to move the action from a messy bachelorette pad in London to a posh garden in mere minutes, and both spaces feel as authentic as they should. Shawn W. St. John's sound design conjures up the mood of the '60s, and punches up the comedy nicely. Paige A. Wilson's costume design gives a nod to the mod era, but never feels like parody or overstatement. John Smetak's lighting design punches up everything. He plays with brightness and color throughout.
When RELATIVELY SPEAKING debuted it must have felt quite progressive and modern for the era. It was about a sexually adventurous woman who never faces too much judgment over it, and sad to say this concept still feels fresh given the current climate. Some of the subtext does seem dated, but the farce aspects still work after all this time. For an Ayckbourn play, it is light and accessible, and Main Street Theater knows exactly how to handle it.
RELATIVELY SPEAKING runs through May 26th at Main Street Theater in Rice Village. Tickets can be acquired through their website at mainstreettheater.com.