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‘Women of Manhattan,’ A New Play, Opens Off-Broadway

May 28, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ John Patrick Shanley’s ″Women of Manhattan″ is a New York fairy tale in which no one lives happily ever after.

The best anyone can expect is to survive with her self-esteem intact, says Rhonda. She’s the most practical of the three women profiled in this slender character study masquerading as a play. It opened over the Memorial Day weekend at off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theater Club.

Shanley places his heroines in the New York’s Upper West Side. It’s one borough and several lifestyles away from the people who inhabit his best known works - ″Danny and the Deep Blue Sea″ and ″Savage in Limbo.″

In those earlier plays, Shanley looked at longings and obsessions in the blue-collar Bronx. Now he’s concerned with people who have brunch on Sunday, eat kiwi pie, decorate their living rooms with Balthus prints and who barbecue hamburgers on the tiny balconies of their high-rise apartment buildings.

Despite their economic and culture differences, the people in these three plays are pretty much alike. All they want is love. In this newest work, Shanley’s female trio represents calculated variations on love in transition.

Rhonda (J. Smith-Cameron) has just broken up with her boyfriend. She’s learning to be self-sufficient, but still can’t get up enough courage to throw out his red sneakers.

Billie (Nancy Mette) is married but her husband is so caught up in his own thoughts that she might as well be single. Only when he blackens her eye does she feel their relationship stands a chance of working out. It’s a sentiment to give most feminists pause.

Judy (Jayne Haynes) is the most man-hungry of the three. She’s willing to go on a blind date to find the right guy. In the play’s funniest scene, Judy, who happens to be white, meets Duke, who happens to be black - two upwardly mobile souls. Because there is so little dramatic action, everything rests on Shanley’s dialogue which often isn’t witty enough to sustain the characters much less the evening.

The three actresses are appealing, particularly Miss Smith-Cameron who injects genuine feeling into Rhonda’s philosophy that’s it’s all right to be alone. Keith Szarabajka as Billie’s self-obsessed husband and Tom Wright as Judy’s prospective bed-partner manage to make positive impressions in their miniscule roles.

Ron Lagomarsino has briskly directed this slight 90-minute fandango. Set designer Adrianne Lobel’s backdrops are enticing - sliding panels of New York apartment buildings that move across the tiny stage and allow for some quick scene changes. Ann Emonts’ costumes are sexy and the eptiome of Columbus Avenue trendiness.

In fact, everything is in place but the play. It’s as if the performers and production staff got all dressed up with nowhere to go.

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