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STAGE REVIEW : ‘He-Man’ a Bright Chronicle of War Between the Sexes

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is it true that he-men hate women? Not according to John Knoerle’s “The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club” at the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood. Well, maybe they pretend to hate women. The truth is, they’re afraid of women--and maybe they aren’t such he-men, after all.

The three thirtysomething guys Knoerle zeroes in on each have a different problem. Rick never has been a real winner with women, which he freely admits to his audiences as a stand-up comic. Then he renews his connection with an old high school sweetheart, now 35 and divorced, with two kids, and Rick is too thrilled at appearing to be a winner to pay attention to the wedding bells drowning out his feeble protestations.

Dave has been married 10 years and is recklessly diving into an affair with a young student in his college English lit class. Steve, a cop who gets turned on by the squeak of his female partner’s gun-belt, is solidly into playing the field as always.

They’re also into male bonding, apparently with super-glue. They’re a club, all right, with high-signs and routines they’ve used to insulate themselves for years. Knoerle knows them very well. Dave is even based on a friend of his, who plays himself in this free-wheeling, honest look at what most men think they are when they aren’t depressed over the truth.

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“Woman Hater’s Club” is as honest, as a matter of fact, about its three protagonists, as the play running down the hall in the same theater, “A Girl’s Guide to Chaos.” And as hilarious. Dave’s nubile student, like the young Aussie living with one of the “Girl’s Guide” trio, is also called “The Kiwi.” A coincidence? Maybe not. Today, the differences in the romantic onslaughts between men and women are slight, the fears the same, the unease as tiring, the optimism as desperate.

Knoerle comes from the world of comedy and it’s evident in this, his first play. That he brings some added richness in characterization and a good sense of form is all in the show’s favor. He has the advantage of Robert Schrock’s firecracker direction, which knows where the laughs are and when to set them off. Schrock also knows where the bitterness is, and the sense of vulnerability that eventually makes the trio as likable as they can be. When the playwright pricks their balloons, they pout like the little boys all men really are.

The richest performance belongs to Tom Villard as Rick, as frenetic and desperate as a Raggedy Andy doll tossed in the wind. His disastrous marriage is based on the playwright’s own, and Villard approaches it with Knoerle’s wacky sense of humor--and eventual sadness. Richard Procter plays Dave, the character based on himself, with a sure sense of the humor in defeat at the hands of the opposite sex. The he-man disaster that is Steve, the cop, is given a good randy edge by Van Quattro, who lets Steve’s defenses drop bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, till his final capitulation to the enemy.

“The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club” is a guy’s guide to the chaos in the Battle Between the Sexes. War is hell.

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* “The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club,” Tiffany Theater, 8432 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Ends March 31. $18-$22; (213) 289-2999. Running time: 1 hour , 45 minutes.


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