Narcissistic Bliss: Relatively Speaking at Brooks Atkinson

Currently running at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is “Relatively Speaking,” a trio of one-act comedies that includes a delightful satire of a pampered socialite played by Marlo Thomas.

Elaine May’s “George Is Dead” joins one-acts by Woody Allen and Ethan Coen to form the troika. Writes the New York Times in its review:

Ms. May’s “George Is Dead” is, for most of its running time, a delicious study in the bliss of narcissism for those who can afford its more rarefied accoutrements, and the plague it can be to those in their orbit. Marlo Thomas plays a pampered princess named Doreen who comes clattering at the front door of her friend Carla’s New York apartment in the wee hours of the night to announce that her husband has just been killed.

In truth Carla, a thankless straight-woman role played with skill by the fine Lisa Emery, is not exactly an intimate. She’s merely the daughter of Doreen’s former nanny. Doreen hasn’t seen Carla in years, and keeps confusing the names of her current and former husbands. But then Doreen is the kind of woman who possesses handbags and shoes to match every outfit and yet can’t figure out whom to call in an emotional crisis. She probably would find the labor involved in making the phone call too taxing in any case.

Ms. Thomas is sublime as this fragrant but poisonous powder puff, whose flailing helplessness allows her to manipulate Carla into making all the funeral arrangements, even though her own marriage is in crisis. “Am I being too horribly demanding? I can never tell,” Doreen says innocently, and Ms. Thomas perfectly captures the obliviousness that is a byproduct of overweening ego. Unfortunately Ms. May’s sharp satirical touch softens, and the play begins to fizzle, when the focus shifts from Doreen’s dithering self-involvement and childish neediness to the dreary conflicts tearing at Carla’s marriage to Michael (Grant Shaud), a do-gooding schoolteacher in a terminal bad mood.

Photo by Joan Marcus via Boneau/Bryan-Brown.