When actor and Sam Houston State University theater professor Tom Prior heard that Main Street Theater Executive Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden had decided on doing the Alan Ayckbourn play, Relatively Speaking, he wanted in.
"I love any character that he writes. Everything about his characters; I just have to play them. They're so eccentric," Prior says. "He just has a way with words."
In this case, Prior is taking on the role of Philip the husband who loves order but is not above having an affair on the side with one of his employees. "He's very particular. He likes status quo. He doesn't like his life shaken up too much."
That employee, Ginny (played by Lindsay Ehhardt) is in a relationship with Greg (Blake Weir) who as the two-act play begins proposes marriage to her. She leaves their London apartment, saying she has to meet with her parents. Greg finds the address where she's going and gets there first to surprise her.
As it turns out, Ginny is not headed to her parents' home but to Philip's country house which he shares with his wife Sheila (Kara Greenberg) in a less than perfect marriage. Ginny's intention is to finally break things off with Philip. When Blake arrives before her to ask her (not) dad for her hand in marriage, Philip thinks Greg is asking to marry Sheila.
The farce just gets more convoluted from there.
This was British playwright Ayckbourn's first successful play when it premiered in 1965. The Main Street production is setting it in 1968, Prior says, with all of the hair, clothing and cultural sensitivities of the time.
Asked why Relatively Speaking is still relevant today, Prior says: "I think [Ayckbourn] looks at human beings with all of our foibles and our lack sometimes of communication and really telling each other what we really think. There’s a lot underneath the text, where the audience can connect to and look up on the stage and say 'Oh that’s a friend of mine or that’s me.' I think that's the universality of his writing."
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Prior who got his start in theater at church, says he's stayed with it because "I like telling stories. I like telling stories and I like affecting audiences." A few years ago he did a play with Classic Theater Company. "It was about two prisoners in Auschwitz and they were forced to do The Merchant of Venice with all the anti-Semitic things. And I had a woman in her 40s after the show in tears saying that this was the first play she had ever gone to and she's going to start seeing more theater. To affect an audience member like that, even if it's for only one person is really really rewarding for me."
In the case of Relatively Speaking, what he and fellow cast members are going for is laughs.
"It's just the element of laughter especially in today’s world with so many things just barraging us. We’re not going to try to figure out humanity, but we can certainly laugh at ourselves, laugh at our eccentricities."
Performances are scheduled for May 4-26 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. Fo information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $36-$48.