2010-03-18 / Arts & Entertainment News

What’s up with Greg and Ginny and Phillip and Sheila?

THEATER REVIEW

In real life, misunderstandings can lead to tiffs, snubs, broken relationships.

In “Relatively Speaking” at Florida Repertory Theatre, misunderstandings lead to hilarity… and to greater misunderstandings, and even greater hilarity.

It all starts when Greg (Jason Parrish) discovers flowers all over his girlfriend’s London flat. They’re in the bathtub, in the kitchen — everywhere. Then he finds a drawer stuffed full of unopened boxes of chocolates. Then there’s the matter of the mysterious phone calls — so many wrong numbers! And where did the pair of men’s slippers under the bed come from? They’re not his — they’re two sizes too big.

Who knows what?

Greg, such an innocent, loves Ginny and wants to believe her flimsy excuses. So he pushes for marriage. Ginny (Kim Morgan Dean) puts him off. She says she’s going to visit her parents that day, but doesn’t want him to come.

Jason Parrish and Kim Morgan Dean in “Relatively Speaking,” playing at the Rep. Jason Parrish and Kim Morgan Dean in “Relatively Speaking,” playing at the Rep. What Greg doesn’t know is that Ginny is going to visit her lover and former boss, to break things off. (He’s the one who’s been phoning and sending all those chocolates and flowers.)

What Ginny doesn’t know is that Greg, who’s romantic in addition to innocent, is going to sneak onto the same train because he wants to meet her parents and ask for her hand in marriage.

When he manages to arrive before her, the misunderstandings multiply at an astounding rate. Ginny’s lover, Phillip (Chris Clavelli), thinks Greg is his wife’s lover, and he’s dumbfounded when Greg begins talking about marriage.

Phillip’s wife, Sheila (Carrie Lund), a polite British woman, doesn’t quite know what’s going on, but is determined, no matter what, to be hospitable.

The misunderstandings just grow exponentially from there.

With two men and two women, the possibilities for confusion are endless.

When Ginny shows up, Phillip finally realizes what’s going on. The two then collude to keep their partners from finding out about their affair — though Phillip isn’t above threatening blackmail to get what he wants.

Jolly good fun

“Relatively Speaking” is wickedly fun and thoroughly unpredictable. And this quartet of actors plays it with the lightness it deserves.

Sometimes American actors playing British comedies don’t quite get the humor or the tone right: the dry witticisms, the asides. But this ensemble nails it.

Mr. Parrish is sweetly clueless throughout the whole show, a lighthearted man who’s eager to please. He has scenes of great anxiety, as well as sly physical humor: there are a number of phallic-centric visual jokes sprinkled throughout the play. (My favorite was an umbrella that keeps springing open.)

His partner, Ms. Dean, is a myriad of people, depending upon the people she’s around. With Mr. Parrish she’s nice and flirty, but when she gets with her former lover, Phillip, her entire demeanor changes, and her face grows harsh.

Mr. Clavelli continues to lose himself in his characters. His Phillip is a stern, somewhat uptight man who’s prone to little fits of rage. Mr. Clavelli has some great moments as his character has a meltdown on stage, and the scene of him simply sitting and haplessly eating a banana had me in stitches.

And Ms. Lund has the unenviable role of playing a character who’s continually in a state of polite perplexity. Though the very model of British civility, her Sheila is not as dense as she may appear. She verbally parries with her husband with the skill of someone who’s been married for a while and knows exactly how to push his buttons. And she’s quite saucy with the delivery of some lines.

All the right touches

Robert Cacioppo has directed this play with the delicate hand of a chef who knows how to keep a comedic soufflé light and fluffy.

The set, by Kenneth J. Martin, is a work of art. Ginny’s flat is a kaleidoscope of color and patterns, with clothes piled on the floor, draped on hooks or over a screen and spilling out of drawers. It’s a ’60s mish-mash, barely controlled chaos.

When the scene changes, we’re suddenly in the yard behind Phillip and Sheila’s stately brick house: crawling ivy, a sundial, archways and bursts of flowers create an extremely orderly set on which much chaos occurs.

Mr. Cacioppo has given us another clever set change, which drew applause on opening night. I won’t give away the specifics, but I will say that it’s just as clever and entertaining as a scene change in “You Can’t Take It With You,” where actors danced about the stage while removing and replacing props.

Mr. Martin’s set is marvelous. (I have only one small complaint: the angle of the windows on stage left were such that you could see the actual lights reflected, which ruined the magic, reminding us that these people are on a stage.)

Costume designer Robert Malcolm must have had fun clothing these actors, especially the younger two. Pure 1967, Greg wears a skinny tie and checkered polyester pants with black ankle-length Beatle boots. Ginny wears a loud paisley skirt with canary yellow tights and white go-go boots. Later on, when she’s going out, she dons a white cape and shiny white newsboy cap, looking very Carnaby Street mod.

No confusion here

“Relatively Speaking” was the breakout work for playwright Alan Ayckbourn in 1965. He had almost given up the profession before writing this comedy; but based on the success of this play, he went on to be one of Britain’s most prolific and widely performed playwrights. More than 40 years later, “Relatively Speaking” remains highly popular.

A definite audience pleaser, this production clearly demonstrates why.

Misunderstanding has never been so much fun. ¦
.. in the know
>> What: “Relatively Speaking”
>> When: through March 28
>> Where: Florida Repertory Theatre, in the
historic Arcade Theatre on Bay Street; between
Hendry and Jackson in downtown Fort Myers.
>> Cost: $42 and $38
>> Information: (239) 332-4488
or www.FloridaRep.org

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