In Relatively Speaking, Anne Mulhall delivers a blizzard of identities, most of them seeming to talk considerably faster than they think. A re-vamping of her People Are So Funny show of several years ago, this work of solo theatre established the writer/performer in the tradition of characterizationists such as Ruth Draper and Lily Tomlin. The laughs come not so much at clever one-liners as at the recognition of an observed type. Just as in the piece's previous incarnation, Mulhall ucceeded in making the audience chuckle consistently at the several rather off-center personas she weaved through the evening.
The lineup included an Italian-American tough guy, a Valley Girl actress, and a WASP mother, among others. Long-faced with a very pliable voice, Mulhall never lapsed into exaggeration with any of the vocal characteristics of these people. She was especially impressive in achieving many nicely rendered male idiosyncrasies without ever seeming condescending about it, such as her slow eye bats for a streetwise stud.
Mulhall's text produced not so much a stream of guffaws as a continual smile and frequent chuckles. And, more impressively, she can cut to the heart of a character with one swift, blackly comic stroke; e.g., when a long-suffering housewife remarks that sex with her husband "is the only time I feel alone enough to have a complete thought."
The through-line to the show is that all of these people either know or know of each other. The events about which they talk run the gamut from friendship to death. Rather than lump them, though, into seven or eight neatly segmented sequences, Mulhall swirls them through the text with a heartbeat separating one from the other and his or her return. The technique made for some nicely realized juxtapositions of attitude and ways of coping with a personal crisis.
Mulhall used no costume changes with any of the characters but remained in a simple white tee/black spandex sweatpant combo, letting voice and physicalization delineate the differences. As in the previous show, she utilized a lot of mime -- with the same varying degrees of success. This is a very watchable performer, though, and an observant writer. There was no credit listed for director but, with the right one, she could develop into a prominent artist.
(The show's lighting was done by Carol Dorn, one of Mama's resident technical team, and was apt throughout.)
Copyright 1996 Review by John Michael Koroly
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