BOTTOM LINE: A new theater company resurrects John Patrick Shanley's homage to neurotic New York ladies for their first full-length staged endeavor.
Before there was HBO's Sex and the City, there was John Patrick Shanley's Women of Manhattan. Originally produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in the awesome 80s, the play follows three age-old female archetypes: the flirt (Billie), the traditionalist (Rhonda Louise), and the cynic (Judy). Each of these women is romantically-challenged in their own special way. While married, Billie's appetite for love and sex remains insatiable; Rhonda Louise is still mourning the loss of her ex-boyfriend (not to mention holding onto a shabby pair of sneakers he left behind at her apartment); and Judy, the self-proclaimed "fag hag," has all but sworn off men entirely.
In four acts, we watch these women attempt to get in touch with themselves and gain the success in their relationships with the opposite sex that they have in seemingly every other aspect of their lives. Some wind up happy (Billie and her hubby Bob regain that lovin' feeling, Judy has a sexual awakening) while others, to put it simply, don't (Rhonda Louise is left with little more than those sneakers).
Shanley's Women of Manhattan does little to actually break new ground, proving that even when you're a playwright with a profound body of work (Doubt, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea), they can't all be winners. Not only does the play lack a fresh take on an overdone concept (three unlucky-and-unhappy-in-love big city gals), but Women of Manhattan is also short a Carrie Bradshaw – the character that brings together and makes sense of an otherwise motley crew of female stereotypes.
While the play may have been edgy and thought-provoking in an era famous for acid-wash denim and larger-than-life hair, the show now falls flat onstage. I'm not saying that watching women hem-and-haw over their frustrations with men can't be fun and titillating, but the year is 2010, and this particular story and its three main characters feel so run into the ground and overplayed that it's not hard to imagine why this piece of theater is rarely produced. While filled with potential monologue choices for the ladies and punchy one-liners, Women of Manhattan left me feeling as though I'd "been there, seen that" – albeit more successfully. Not even Billie calling Judy a "dildo" elicited more than a snicker from the audience (though in all fairness, how could it when we've become so accustomed to seeing Sex and the City's Samantha whip an actual one out?).
With that said, I applaud the Iron Jaw Company for putting up a female-centric show that provides opportunities for actresses. The company's mission, according to their website, is "to create a dialogue with the audience about the roles women play in their homes, work, relationships, society," and so it is with that goal that I look forward to seeing more from them (particularly co-founding member Erica Linderman, who brought to life the otherwise two-dimensional character Judy with her keen sense of comedic timing) in the future.
(The Iron Jaw Company's production of Women of Manhattan finished its run at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre inside midtown Manhattan's Abingdon Theatre Complex on Sunday, October 3, 2010. For more on the New York City based theatre company and information on their upcoming projects and productions, visit www.ironjawcompany.com.)