(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/20.)

Mothers come in for some serious savaging in “Relatively Speaking,” a reasonably savory tasting platter of comedies by Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen that opened on Thursday night at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.

This will come as no surprise. Nagging, wheedling, needling, needy or demanding moms — often of the Jewish persuasion, it must be said — have been an endlessly fertile resource for comedy writers, the mother lode if you will permit a blunt pun. It is safe to assume that as long as women give birth, their beloved boys and girls will grow up to write bruising punch lines about them.

But few family members are spared in this enjoyable if lightweight diversion, loosely assembled around the idea that our nearest and dearest can do us wrong in infinitely inventive ways. Husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, stepfathers and even unofficial family members like the rabbi and the therapist take plenty of hits too.

Old-fashioned boulevard comedy — bright, easygoing fare that doesn’t require the deciphering of plummy or crummy British accents — has more or less evaporated from the Broadway marketplace since the heyday of Neil Simon. “Relatively Speaking” brings back this once-popular genre in manageable bite-size portions, provided by starry showbiz names who sometimes seem to be channeling Mr. Simon’s gag-driven style. These plays are not going to do anything much in the way of reputation burnishing for their three celebrated authors — and certainly none is required — but they are packed with nifty zingers and have been directed by John Turturro with a boisterous flair for socking home the borscht-belt humor.


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