"Relatively Speaking"

By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Polly Hogan
Lyric West Theatre
Boston, MA  through  30 April  2000.

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

The first thing I noticed about Lyric West's production of "Relatively Speaking", long before the characters took their places and the lights went up, was the Peter Max blue and white floral sheets on the narrow cot in the ingenue's London Bed-sit: boisterous sheets that shout "sixties" loud and clear, that mark this production as the revival of a period piece. The same floral sheets that, worn to cobwebby softness,  sit on my own closet shelf-- marking me as a period piece, too!  I date all the way back to the days when the Polly Hogan directed her actors' moves for Ayckbourn's first farce around the oddest l-shaped stage in a tiny airless loft on Charles Street, to the delight of the tiny audience.  and her husband and theatre co-owner Ron Ritchell played the juvenile role of a sexually inexperienced  young Englishman making farcical deductions about the background of his girlfriend, Ginnie.  Something must be going on: the lad's lady love is welcoming him into her narrow bed, but keeping him out of major portions of her life. Aborted phone calls, multiple boquets and boxes of chocolette,  a pair of large masculine slippers under that narrow bed, all make him suspicious.  But not suspicious enough to guess that a rather ordinary middle aged rich man who knows Ginnie very well might be her lover.  Old enough to be her father, the Other Man-- the role Ritchell plays in the current production-- must be Ginnie's father!  of his skittish girl-friend. Numerous hang-ups, implausible explanations, and make him curious enough to pay her parents a surprise visit .... at least he thinks they're her parents.

Lyric West is showcasing "Relatively Speaking" some thirty years later (My, How time flies!) and Ritchell is now playing the "father" role. That has to be some kind of record!

No one does  better than Ron Ritchell and Polly Hogan. They have the rhythm down, the wicked humor in place, and the farce perfect down to the nano-second; so it's no bog news that this production is a dream.

 takes a while to set up but once the bricks are firmly in place, the construct is demolished with swift precision. Ritchell and Cheryl McMahon are the quintessential stuffy British couple, detached and even a bit contemptuous of each other's interests ... he of the sly grin, she of the arched eyebrow. They are matched giggle for giggle by Jo Barrick as the younger woman and Robert Isaacson as the beau. Barrick has the great comic timing and big, innocent saucer eyes. Isaacson has the late Peter Cook's heavenly voice and a frightfully amusing slow burn.

Hogan's pacing for farce has no equal. You don't appreciate the finesse involved until you see a failed farce (and I've seen a few lately which shall remain unnamed). Joseph Stephenson's set converts niftily from a bed sitter to the grounds of a country house. (It's the same country house, it turns out, previously occupied at Lyric West by another Ayckbourn couple, fittingly enough!) Seth Bodie's costumes are Carnaby Street smart for the young couple and genteel chic for their elders. They all glow in the sunlight of Jeff Gardner's country lighting. 

"Relatively Speaking" (till
50 Oakland Street, WELLESLEY