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Julie Kavner Speaks "Relatively" In a new Broadway comedy, the actress returns to Woody Allen's world

By ERIC GRODE

When Julie Kavner bought her ticket to see Midnight in Paris,she had no idea what she was in for. And that's just how she likes it.

"You know the scene when Owen Wilson…" she begins, and then she pauses to see if everyone has seen Woody Allen's latest film before offering any further information. "I was shocked when that happened, and I'm supposed to be shocked because Owen Wilson is shocked."

This element of surprise is on Kavner's mind because she is currently appearing in "Honeymoon Motel," Woody Allen's contribution to the three-part comedy Relatively Speaking, which opens at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Oct. 20. The show's website describes the piece (which is bundled with one-acts by Ethan Coen and Elaine May) as follows: "Woody Allen invites you to the sort of wedding day you won't forget."

This description is rambling compared with what Kavner can say (or will say) about her role in the play. "Um…I can say I'm a mother-in-law. Sort of." There is a longish pause. "I'm a mother. You can say that."

Her reticence will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the career of Woody Allen, who is typically tight-lipped about his films. And Kavner, 61, has appeared in seven of them, including 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters (a role she has credited with rejuvenating her career) and 1997's Deconstructing Harry.

She has said in interviews that she has agreed to appear in Allen's films without even looking at a script. Fourteen years after their last collaboration, does that hold true of this play?

"Well, I read it," she says. "But I had already said yes."

After a little prodding, Kavner divulges that Allen is approaching the Honeymoon Motel text in a different way than usual. For one thing, he's entrusting his words to a different director (John Turturro, who's helming all three pieces in Relatively Speaking). And when he does participate in rehearsals, Kavner says Allen is "much more hands-on with the actors. It's a farce---I can let that out, I believe---and he's very specific about the rhythms of it. Very, very, very specific, and that's not how I remember him from the films."

While she gained notoriety in the 1970s as Brenda Morgenstern, the title character's younger sister on the popular sitcom Rhoda, Kavner has attained another level of semi-anonymous stardom as the voice of everyone's favorite blue-haired lady, Marge Simpson.

Kavner first played Marge on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, before The Simpsons premiered on Fox in 1989. After nearly a quarter century, the show's cast and crew has learned how to accommodate other projects, including stage appearances. Kavner, who has also appeared in Paula Vogel's The Mineola Twins and was part of the first cast of The Vagina Monologues after Eve Ensler's departure, is fitting in the occasional taping session around her Relatively Speaking rehearsals and performances. "I had to miss some shows, but I can do them from here," she says. "They've been very accommodating."

But rather than bask in the security of starring on the longest-running scripted prime-time show in television history, Kavner prefers to tout the longevity of her 75-year-old collaborator. "Woody's energy and desire to keep doing this is just incredible. I mean, he just got back from Rome! He's already done another movie!" Beyond that, Kavner has nothing more to say about the film.

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Eric Grode is the author of the recently released “Hair: The Story of the Show That Defined a Generation” (Running Press).