By Dylan Thomas
Adapted and Directed by Polly Hogan
Lyric West Theatre at Mass Bay College
Wellesley, MA  through  December  2000.

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

This year marks the 24th annual re-telling of the Hogan/Ritchell  adapation of Dylan Thomas' story, "A Child's Christmas in Wales".  I don't know whether I will get to this year's production, which has found its 4th or 5th home behind the proscenium at  Mass Bay College in Wellesley.  That  is where I saw it last Christmas, on the closing weekend of its 23rd annual run..  But I have seen it and loved it in its earlier incarnations, and I am sure that it will be well worth seeing, whether it be for the first or the 24th time, -- as for some loyal fans it will be.  I know it will feature Ron Ritchell, who has been the narrator, the voice of the poet, from the beginning,  His performance is the best reason for coming to "A Child's Christmas in Wales".again and again.  Ron sounds "just like" Dylan Thomas reading his own words on the historic recording:-- only better, more immediate.  I know that Rene Miller will be playing the female roles this year as she usually and delightfully does. ne dazzling year when -- was out of town, I had the honor of substituting for her in those roles myself.  nd I know that Polly Hogan's production will be traditional, and beautiful and silly and simple, and that it will bring the essence of Christmas to anyone who approaches it with ears and heart open to what poetry can do in the theatre.

It's a strange piece,    If Christmas is about an historic event in Roman occupied Palestine, or the Christian dogma associated with that event, then Dylan Thomas' memoir hasn't much of a claim to Christmas.    There's a passing mention of churchgoers and a couple of carols.  Presents-- remarable today for their extreme modesty and both in quantity and kind-- and feasting and drinking and naughtiness and storytelling. If bingle drinking and marital spats and

certainty of unconditional love.  This love, and the wonder of it, falls like the in heaps and drifts over everything and suffuses everything 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