This is one of the Hales' earlier family comedies - and it's probably time to change the title, something which is not unprecedented in the history of theater. Doug Stewart did it several years ago when "Latter-day Ruth" was changed to "The Day the Rain Fell Up." The Hales, too, did it just this past season - twice - changing "The Burr Trail" to "Rough Road Ahead" to "Burr Under My Saddle."

So, exercising a drama critic's prerogative, I firmly believe that the definitive title for this play is really "GRANDPARENTHOOD."Heaven knows, the plotline and action in "The Babysitters" are at least as hectic and convoluted as the movie comedy "Parenthood."

Now, playwright-director Ruth Hale adamantly claims that "The Babysitters" is not autobiographical - except that she was inspired by some of the experiences she had watching her grandchildren now and then. And, right off the bat, we know that this is truly a work of fiction, because the elderly couple in the center of the action, during the first few moments of the play, are talking about RETIREMENT!! And this is a word that is not even in Ruth or Nathan Hale's vocabulary.

Well, OK, they did make a rudimentary attempt at retiring about five years ago - and decided that being bored to death was not the best route to take - so they established their Hale Center Theater.

"The Babysitters" has John and Amy Bailey planning a leisurely cruise - a cruise that is swiftly sunk by the arrival of assorted children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends and a giant (but cuddly) English Shepherd canine. Even Grandpa Bailey's doddering father, Great-Grandpa Bailey, gets into the fray - on the lam from those ornery folks at the rest home.

Naturally, there are mix-ups aplenty during a scenario that encompasses less than a week (to the Baileys it just seems like an eternity!) in a household that is easily as busy and crowded as Times Square on New Year's Eve.

But there's something missing long about the final scene.

Pam is missing Mark.

Tammy is missing Robyn.

Raymond is missing Bonnie Jo.

Millie is missing Doreen (along with her rented Camaro).

Great-grandpa Bailey is always missing . . . from the rest home.

Rodney, Raymond's pet snake, come up missing now and then (but it could be worse - what he really wants is a boa).

Raymond is missing his Playboy centerfold pin-up pictures (until Great-grandpa Bailey retrieves them from the garbage can).

And Grandma Bailey is missing Grandpa Bailey ("Maybe running away runs in this family," she muses).

What's NOT missing in "The Babysitters" is a generous quota of one-liners. This is the kind of comedy that the Hales specialize in - sort of sit-comish affairs with lots of family-oriented action.

As usual, the majority of performers are double-cast, including the leading roles of Grandpa and Grandma Bailey.

Some nights, they'll be played by Ruth and Nathan themselves - a couple who could be considered the Jessica Tandy/Hume Cronyn of the local talent pool. On other nights (but not necessarily specific "alternate" nights), these roles will be taken by Mary Sandberg and Bob Chambers, both familiar to HCT regulars.

The Hale Center Theater, in order to avoid allowing patrons from picking only those nights that Ruth and Nathan are playing, is not publicizing which nights the alternate casts are performing.

What I'm saying is that, just because the Hales aren't in the show that you might catch, you needn't feel slighted in the last bit. By and large, both of the company's casts are polished and professional.

Three key roles in the show are single-cast. Virgie Ostler plays Millie, the somewhat addled next-door neighbor whose daughter runs off with Robyn (played by Mark Inkley), and Josh, the friendly dog, played by Sir Lancelot.

Ostler and Inkley have long-time connections to HCT, too, and perform well in their respective roles.

"The Babysitters" even manages to touch - ever so delicately - on a few social issues. Besides the aforementioned Playboy pin-ups ("Why did you pin those pictures up on the wall?" Grandpa sternly asks; "Because I didn't have any Scotch tape," adolescent Raymond replies) - such provocative topics as divorce, marijuana, even living together pop up in the various conversations.

But, be not dismayed, this is full-fledged Hale-style family comedy.

If you missed it when the Hales first presented it in 1985, now you have a second chance.