"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," writes Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, which ran May's interview with Coen and Allen last week. "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."
The Voice's Michael Musto breaks down the three one-acts: "First, Ethan Coen's slender Talking Cure has a postal worker (Danny Hoch) being prodded to talk through his rage by a mental institution doctor (Jason Kravits), revealing that his problems stem from bickering parents who clearly talked too much. Elaine May's George Is Dead has a superficial, high strung widow (Marlo Thomas) burdening herself on an old friend (Lisa Emery)…. After intermission, Woody Allen's Honeymoon Motel has a terrible father [Steve Guttenberg] actually getting off the hook for his transgression. The plot involves a middle-aged man devastating his wife and stepson by running off with an inappropriate younger woman [Ari Graynor]. (Really stretching here, Woody!)"
Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News is not amused: "Cure wants conjure grim humor a la Fargo, but it thuds along without raising a single chuckle - or point." As for George, "It's as though May didn't know where to take the story, and the slackness in the writing is echoed in direction by John Turtorro." He finds it "heartening to see Allen use some of his favorite film actors, including Caroline Aaron, who plays Jerry's wife, and Julie Kavner, who is Nina's mother. Old pals, great. Old jokes, and there are plenty of 'em, not so much."
The New York Post's Elizabeth Vincentelli agrees: "Subpar at best, these efforts — I use the term loosely, because it looks as if nobody tried very hard — come nowhere near the authors’ best. This is an egregious case of selling your audience short."
USA Today's Elysa Gardner finds May's play "darkly funny, surprisingly moving," Coen's "slight but entertaining" and Allen's "a soggy hash of stale jokes spewed seemingly at random by characters ranging from a shrewish wife to a philosophizing rabbi."
For the Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney, this "featherweight package makes a flimsy case for the star power of writers."
"Relatively Speaking is more an embarrassment to watch than an entertainment," writes Toby Zinman in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The AP's Mark Kennedy breaks ranks: "To enlist Goldilocks in the evaluation, the play by Coen seems a little underbaked and May's is a meandering downer, but Allen's is a romp that's just right."
In a spotlight for the November issue of Vanity Fair (for which Annie Leibowitz snapped a shot of all three playwrights), Douglas McGrath spoke with set designer Santo Loquasto: "When Allen (for whom Loquasto has designed 22 films) saw the colorful, comical design for the motel, with its circular bed and pink Jacuzzi, he said, 'Oh, so it's going to be like that, is it?,' to which Loquasto replied, 'Yes! It's not like we're doing The Wild Duck!'"
Viewing (3'23"). The cast talks about how excited they are to be involved. Oh, and they all enjoy working with each other!