The ads for the Broadway show “Relatively Speaking” announce that it is a “laugh out loud comedy.” Well, that’s what one would expect considering that it’s an Ethan Coen-Elaine May-Woody Allen triptych. I regret to say that I didn’t laugh out loud. The three bold-faced names led me to expect the three one-act comedies to be especially enjoyable. Elaine May’s “George Is Dead” is a one-joke script greatly enhanced by marvelous acting. Marlo Thomas is an actress I haven’t seen in a long time. I still think of the lady as comedian Danny Thomas’ daughter and talk-show host Phil Donahue’s wife. At 60 or so, Ms. Thomas playing a rich ditzy widow makes the script somewhat enjoyable. Coen’s “Talking Cure” left me wondering why it was included as a one-act comedy. It didn’t even make me smile. Act II belongs to Woody Allen and I confess that as soon as I hear his name I’m ready to enjoy myself. His “Honeymoon Motel,” I must admit, has much strenuous mugging but I didn’t mind. Allen’s characters include the angry wife, the tipsy rabbi, and a dazed old broad (brought wonderfully to life by Julie Kavner). What is Allen trying to tell us? I’m guessing that life is short so take whatever you can get. There doesn’t seem to be any right or wrong. Perhaps it’s Allen’s perennial moral. However, I did “laugh out loud.” My astute friend suggests that if you are an Allen fan and want to see his one-act play in “Relatively Speaking,” arrive at intermission for Act II. Thinking about that, I would say it’s kind of expensive for forty minutes of guffaws.
“What good is sitting alone in your room?/Come hear the music play./Life is a Cabaret, old chum,/Come to the Cabaret.” Can you hear me singing the song? Cabaret is my favorite form of entertainment and that’s why I was treated on my birthday to the Café Carlyle. The last time I was there (and that was a long time ago), Bobby Short was the attraction. This time it was a favorite of mine, guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli. Café Carlyle is consisered the bastion of classic cabaret entertainment in New York City (it’s on the upper East Side) and not for the faint of heart or pocketbook. Jackets are required, no jeans or sneakers, and the price range is $$$$. It appears to attract a well-heeled older crowd who don’t mind being packed together like sardines because they are eager to hear the standards. I assumed, and incorrectly so, that knowing John Pizzarelli for years (and his father, the legendary jazz guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli) that I’d be hearing the old standards. John, with his talented wife, Jessica Molansky, sings songs from different eras and genres: Billy Joel, the Beatles, Jobin, Sondheim, and others. John Pizzarelli is still extremely musical and his quartet, especially the pianist, Larry Fuller, is right up there with him. Coupled with his wife, there’s musical and psychological chemistry in their presentation. One might say theirs is a musical match made in heaven. However, I still favor the musical standards my mom played. Those are the songs I recognize and enjoy. And I still like jeans, sneakers, and a few bucks left in the wallet.
As a youngster I can remember my folks speaking of J. Edgar Hoover as a monster and destroyer of lives. So when I learned that Leonardo DiCaprio would be starring in a biopic of the famous (or should I say infamous) F.B.I. director, I looked forward to seeing Clint Eastwood’s film “J. Edgar.” Today’s kids won’t know who J. Edgar Hoover was. I’m guessing that this movie is most suitable for history buffs, thirteen and older. The thrust of the film is that Hoover’s obsessions were rooted in the closeted gay man’s terror of being exposed, especially to his mother. I always enjoy actress Judi Dench, who plays Mrs. Hoover (and I don’t envy anyone having a mother like that). At one point she announces, “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son” to which J. Edgar replies, “Yes, Mother.” Director Clint Eastwood’s expansive view of human frailties shifts between Hoover’s past and present, his intimate life, and popular persona. The film effectively outs the closeness between the F.B.I. director and his deputy who was his constant long-time companion. “J. Edgar” shows the tragic personal and political fall out of the closet. It would take a mini-series to name every one of Hoover’s victims and enemies. The film is a fascinating psychological portrait that exposes the moral life of a lonely man who helped crush many others. Once again, my mom and dad were right in despising the phony, dangerous, powerful F.B.I. director. If there’s a lesson to be learned it might be “The bigger the ‘moralist,’ the bigger the hypocrite.” Unfortunately that can apply to many public figures we have today.
You can e-mail June Sturz at email@example.com.