By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer


Three new one-act comedies written by three famous comic names (Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen) and performed by many veteran comic actors  should be a trifecta of laughs.  Should be.


Relatively Speaking is more an embarrassment to watch than an entertainment. This Broadway dud features everybody hauling out their vintage schtick—too loud, too slow, too forced, with every cliché gesture, every clutzy punchline, every vulgar elbow-nudge ever seen on the Borscht Belt decades ago. How did director John Turturro let this happen?

The first on the program is the best of the lot: Coen’s “Talking Cure” about a postal worker (standout Danny Hoch) who went postal. His inept psychiatrist (Jason Kravits) is, in session after session, trying to get him to answer the question: “Why are you here?” The answer, as any fool can see (and Hoch’s character, both menacing and bored, is nobody’s fool) is that he’s in a mental institution because he’s a mental patient.  He describes his parents constant battling, and when the scene shifts to his pregnant mother and father, waddya know and sure enough, we see why he was there.  After the shrink explains the “talking cure,” Hock delivers the evening’s best line: “Is there a shutting-the-f----up cure?” A question that needed to be asked.

Second is “George is Dead” where May creates one of those sit-com scenarios that is as implausible as it is groaningly dated: an ultra spoiled, ultra rich society matron (Marlo Thomas) arrives at the dingy apartment of her old nanny’s daughter (Lisa Emery) whose husband is too angry to come home in a subplot that goes nowhere.  The matron’s husband has just died in a skiing accident (“I don’t have the depth to feel this bad”) and the running gag is her requiring her cowed hostess to remove the salt from saltines.

Third is by Woody Allen who must have reached into a bottomless bottom drawer to find “Honeymoon Motel.”  The noisy, repetitious plot turns on a bride (Ari Graynor) who has run off with the groom’s stepfather (Steve Guttenberg). They are soon joined in the tacky honeymoon suite by the rest of both families, his psychiatrist, the rabbi who eulogizes everybody (a running gag that wasn’t funny to start with and gets worse).   The cast includes Julie Kavner and Mark Linn-Baker to no avail.

Relatively speaking, Relatively Speaking is a bust.


Brooks Atkinson Theatare, 256 W. 47th St., New York. Tickets $74.75 - $129.75
Information:800-745-3000, 877-250-2929 or www.ticketmaster.com