THE BLOG
11/15/2011 05:16 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2012

Relatively Speaking : Three One-Act Comedies at the Brooks Atkinson Theater

The first comedy, Ethan Coen's Talking Cure, is about a frustrated psychiatrist who is unable to make a connection with his patient at a mental institution. The patient, who won't even admit he is one, is a mailman who went postal on his job, attacking a worker and even attacking a nurse in the hospital. The lights blink on and off to indicate each successive scene-let and at the end, in a blink, we see a scene from the patient's childhood -- his parents fighting over Hitler and we learn that his Jewish mother had expected her son to be Jascha Heifetz. Drama and lit students will adore it, but in the heated discussion in the lady's room during intermission, most women agreed that Coen's play was more fartsy than artsy.

Remember Elaine May and Mike Nichol's uproarious comedy acts from the 50's? Elaine May as an operator with Mike Nichols, the guy who put his last dime in the phone and can't get a penny of help from her? Or Elaine May as the long-suffering mother whose doctor says she's too high-strung to bear any stress argues with her rocket scientist son for not calling her for a few days? Well, meet Elaine May behind the scenes as the playwright of the hilarious and moving George is Dead. Each character is so well-developed. Marlo Thomas begins as a ditzy older rich woman whose husband, George, dies at a ski lodge. Instead of attending to the funeral arrangements, the self-absorbed society lady shows up at the apartment of the daughter of the nanny she had in childhood and expects to be waited on as she had been back then. The characters are given the time to grow and change and the revelation feels earned.

Woody Allen's Honeymoon Hotel feels like a hilarious meditation on his scandalous marriage to his adopted stepdaughter, Soon-Yi. Here, the father of the groom runs off from the temple with his stepson's bride in the same dramatic way Dustin Hoffman ran off with Katherine Ross in The Graduate. You'll be reminded of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite as well. Best of all, when the cast of characters show up at the hotel, even the doddering rabbi with his meandering scripture, you'll be reminded of early Woody Allen, zany and over-the-top Woody. Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge Simpson) looks and acts so much like a female Woody Allen that I had to check the Playbill to learn that she wasn't he!