On Broadway, John Turturro Offers Three For One

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Stroll the cross streets along Broadway in New York, and you'll notice the names of movie stars jostling for marquee space with theater heavyweights. Hugh Jackman, Angela Bassett and Brooke Shields are the latest round of screen stars drawing crowds. But come to a stop at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on 47th Street, and the movie star winning the attention is John Turturro.

Turturro is best known for roles in movies by Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers and others, but this month he's making his debut as a Broadway director.

That's no easy task, considering Turturro is actually directing three one-act plays by three big-name writers: Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen. The show involves several sets and 15 actors ranging from Steve Guttenberg to Marlo Thomas. If it sounds hectic, that's because it is.

Each of the plays in Relatively Speaking is a comedy dealing with tangled family relationships. The first, "The Talking Cure" by filmmaker Ethan Cohen, starts out with just two characters; a shrink and a very smart, witty and literate mental patient. The second part of the play is a flashback that involves the patient's parents.

The second act is "George is Dead," by playwright Elaine May.

"That's about a woman who loses her husband — a very rich woman," Turturro says. "She looks up her nanny's daughter for comfort."

The rich woman is played by Thomas, and when she walks out on stage, the audience clearly lights up. Turturro says Thomas' role involves a delicate balance.

"It's tricky, because there is a lot of comedy, but you have to have a humanity underneath it, too," he says.

The finale belongs to Woody Allen. "Honeymoon Hotel" is an old-school farce that opens with what appears to be a bride and groom settling into what they hope will be a magical night. But all is not what it seems to be.

"I don't want to give away the plot, but you find out it's a whole comedy of desire and what happens when a person of a certain age has a midlife crisis," Turturro says. "There's 10 people in that play, a very talented cast."

Turturro says juggling all three plays has been a challenge. "One act is one thing, but to do three, sometimes I feel like my head is going to pop off," he says. "I can't say it's the most challenging thing I've done. It's the most personalities; there are a lot of powerful people involved. So I would say overall, I'm enjoying it. I would say switching from play to play is a little schizophrenic."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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