The women in John Patrick Shanley's "Women of Manhattan," now at the Way Off Broadway playhouse, are all attractive--comely, intelligent (well, Billie is a little suspect) and neurotic, but only to the point of being interesting, not exhausting.
They have different problems, and the same problem. Love--its vagaries, the vacuum it creates when you have it and the vacuum it creates when you don't--drapes their days. Love unites them; it's what they talk about, really, when they talk about men, marriage and sex.
More specifically, Billie (Denison Glass) is a flashy-looking blonde who drinks and is plagued by too much imagination. She's married to Bob (Jim Bogner) and has affairs on the side.
Judy (Ricci Thomas) wears mannish Marlene Dietrich clothes and has an incendiary wit, used mostly for self-protection. She's straight but keeps ending up in bed with gay men. That is, until she meets the rascally Duke (Godfrey Huguley).
Rhonda Louise (Molly Kincaid) is the pretty realist; with her honey-dipped Southern vowels and style, she's a sensible Scarlett O'Hara. Her boyfriend just left her, but she's trying to be brave. She keeps his dirty sneakers in the living room to remind her of what was.
Director Tony Reverditto has brought a strong trio of actresses to his tiny Santa Ana theater to play Shanley's New Yorkers. Thomas is witty and winning, all wrapped up in a cocoon of healthy cynicism, as she provides punch for Shanley's edgy writing. Kincaid does as much with her big-eyed expressions as she does with her natural handling of the dialogue; and she gives an affecting bravado to Rhonda Louise's cathartic outburst at play's end.
Denison Glass isn't quite as on as the other two (she tries too much at times, over-amplifying Billie's loopiness), but there are many moments when she's lovably odd, and it's easy to take the character all the way in.
Of course, providing accessible characters is one of Shanley's trademarks. He's written many, in both his plays ("Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" and "Savage in Limbo) and screenplays ("Moonstruck"), and it's no surprise that we can get close to this threesome.
That's really "Women's" strength, and what makes it enough of a pleasure. It's not, however, the best of Shanley's work. The plotting is slight, the conversational writing slips toward the glib and no real resolutions for the threesome are forthcoming.
Still, by emphasizing the breezy quality of the humor, Reverditto keeps "Women" both smart and entertaining. He gets help from Carole L. Cooney and Del DePierro's economical but good-looking set and Alex Saltzmann's restrained and effective lighting.
'WOMEN OF MANHATTAN'
A Way Off Broadway production of John Patrick Shanley's play. Directed by Tony Reverditto. With Denison Glass, Molly Kincaid, Ricci Thomas, Jim Bogner and Godfrey Huguley. Set by Carole L. Cooney and Del DePierro. Light and sound by Alex Saltzmann. Makeup by Paul Thompson. Plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. though March 10 at 1058 E. 1st St., Santa Ana. Tickets: $10 and $12. (714) 547-8998.