With a winning combination of wit and irony, Relatively Speaking is an Alan Ayckbourn comedy set in London and Buckinghamshire, dramatizing the interactions among four characters of different generations, all caught up in farcical miscommunications.
Main Street’s production, directed by Rebecca Greene Udden, is a fun romp that makes fun of the swinging '60s and its loosened sexual mores. Liz Freese’s set design—both of a twenty-something’s London flat and a lovely country house—is wonderful. I loved the hideous orange and pink wallpaper that decorates the flat, with its poster celebrating the 1966 film Alfie starring Michael Caine—itself a popular anatomy of casual sex in the 1960s. Add to that a poster of the 1966 Lynn Redgrave film Georgy Girl—about the innocent Georgina Parkin, who is pursued by both an older man and a young man—the perfect prop for a play that features a similar scenario.
I also loved the costumes. In no other decade have polyester, stripes, and white pleather held such hostage of our imagination. Bravo to Paige A. Willson for including the shoes that I am pretty sure my mother wore for the better part of the '60s, to the retro jewelry that has come back into style two or three times. I hate to admit that a play about the ‘60s is a period piece, but at least it is a fun period to dramatize.
In this four-person ensemble, we are lucky in that every character has his or her quirks, and it is a pleasure to watch all these actors work together. And they all do accents, and it is all believable, and the accents actually do work, and thank goodness, because this play could not be set anywhere else on earth other than mid-century England.
The play opens with Ginny (Lindsay Ehrhardt) and Greg (Blake Alexander Weir) in their flat. They are not married, but Greg proposes and hilarity ensues. Ginny apparently has a more experienced sexual past. There are mysterious phone calls, presents, even male slippers under her bed, so no wonder Greg is uncertain of her loyalty. What better than marriage to shut down the thrill of liberation?
Both actors are charmingly convincing as young lovers—and their little spats and Ginny’s evasions create suspense, even though at first, I had no idea where this play was going. Then voila! Something happens! Part of the fun of this play is backtracking to the first part and putting together all the clues just like Hercule Poirot.
The second half of the play is set in the country, at the Buckinghamshire home of Philip (Thomas Prior) and Sheila (Kara Greenberg). Philip and Sheila seem bored with each other, and their little digs are delicious. It’s not exactly Fawlty Towers, but sort of, and I loved their dialogue. They are bored with each other, but there's still a spark. Enter Greg as an unexpected luncheon guest, and then you are treated to several courses of witty exchanges and very funny misunderstandings that require really perfect comic timing. Everyone delivers in an engaging and entertaining way.
There are serious questions of identity and fidelity, but this is supposed to be funny, so these things are sort of satirized in a way that isn’t cynical or nihilistic, but rather wonderful character development. One of the characters objects to “vacuous rigamarole” in the process of Ayckbourn revealing how duplicitous romantic partners can be, married or not. So yes, there is a lot of “rigamarole” in this show, but it is funny and certainly not vacuous. It is rather delicious.
But the main thing I want to say is that I was blown away by Kara Greenberg’s performance as Shelia. I had seen her in other productions, but the parts were smaller. I am so glad that I was able to see her formidable talent front and center. Each line, each retort, each expression perfectly captures both the genre and the trajectory of this very British play. Cheers to such a winning and captivating performance—I can’t wait to see what she is in next.
Thru May 26. Tickets from $10. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Blvd. 713-524-6706. More info and tickets at mainstreettheater.com.