OTHER REVIEWS OF THIS PRODUCTION
Review: What’s up with Greg and Ginny and Phillip and Sheila? Nancy Stetson for Florida Weekly
IF YOU GO
What: Who's marrying who in merry olde England circa 1967
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through March 28
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $42, $38, $20
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn's notes on "Relatively Speaking" alanayckbourn.net
Background information about Alan Ayckbourn wikipedia.org
Florida Rep press release on "Relatively Speaking" floridarep.org
FORT MYERS — Florida Rep's "Relatively Speaking" looks like it should power through two hours of mistaken identities, double entendres and farcical frippery with ease. It doesn't - though the veteran cast does their best to turn the polite titters into laughs and the chuckles into howls. Scenes that purr like a comedy Kawasaki don't make up for the ones that sputter - yet.
Alan Ayckbourn constructed "Relatively Speaking" from a snippet of an idea he had where a young man, Greg (Jason Parrish) turns up out of the blue to ask an older man (Chris Clavelli) for his daughter's (Kim Morgan Dean) hand in marriage. The catch - and the comedy - comes from that the older gentleman is the lady's lover - not her father. Throw in a wife (Carrie Lund), some suspicious slippers, garden shears and an unseen but often-referenced hoe (the gardening implement!) used to great entendre effect and it gets complicated fast.
The play serves up enough silly situations to satisfy any lover of farce. No one holds anything back on stage - be it Parrish prancing about in a loincloth made of bed sheets or Clavelli doing his best middle-aged Casanova with unbuttoned shirt and Wellingtons. Director Robert Cacioppo feels like he's holding the throttle a bit on the show, edging it toward light comedy instead of full-on outrageous farce. The resulting show, while still funny, teeters between the two and satisfies as neither. Its a bit like wanting a juicy, medium-rare steak with a nice potato and a glass of wine and settling for a Big Mac.
A British farce pulses with different rhythms than the loud, boisterous comedy of something like "You Can't Take It With You." Delivery becomes important, although the cast chisels away at the dialog-heavy script with obvious glee. In one of the best scenes, Clavelli and Lund lob accusations back and forth over tea in a titanic tennis match of snobbery. At the end of the conversation, they "Hmphf," turn away from each other and snap open newspapers with an audible crack.
Parrish acquits himself well in multiple verbal battles and litters the stage with sight gags (covering his privates at the sight of hedge clippers). The actor has no shame on stage - and the outrageousness serves the play well. Dean gets the best of Roberta Malcolm's mod '60s-inspired costumes (lemon tights, lime dress, white boots). Her best moments come during an intense staring match with Clavelli - her character has a fiancé on one side and a boyfriend on the other and communicates a world of information with her eyes and a few desperate gestures. That sense of desperate energy doesn't always shine through.
Lund gets the juicy denouement - although audiences may feel cheated with the eventual "resolution." Her inner tigress shows at that moment; she stalks the stage with a predator's grace. That presence sometimes overwhelms the feather-headed and muzzy-brained housewife she's playing; the lines are driven with style, but it's difficult to think of the statuesque Lund as an simpleton.
The show opens inside a cluttered flat; it looks like the morning after the tie-dyed month before. Once the action shifts to Kenneth's Martin's impeccable English garden set (by far the better of the two), there's an complete scene change accomplished with much fanfare and silliness. Sound designer Kate Smith peppers the show with first the sounds of a urban London and then the countryside - including enough bird song to fill an aviary. Listen for the comic niceties of the sound.
"Relatively Speaking" features a charming cast in what might have been a bad night for a good play. The pieces of a rib-tickling evening are there - they're just not falling into place exactly right. Look for Parrish's antics (and a frilly apron), Clavelli's excellent work and examine the London apartment set for hidden gems of the flower child era.
My favorite British farce is "Are You Being Served?" I'm free! E-mail me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.