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Women of Manhattan

John Patrick Shanley
Old Red Lion
(2009)

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John Patrick Shanley may well have a claim to be on the shortlist for London's most neglected living playwright. The New Yorker is best known for his film work, which includes the adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt, starring Meryl Streep and, a generation before, Moonstruck with Cher.

He is also a fine playwright as demonstrated by this sophisticated 1986 precursor to a stream of TV series such as Sex and the City.

It may only last 75 minutes but Women of Manhattan packs in a considerable amount of wit and wisdom about sexual relationships and unusually, considering it is written by a man, does so from the feminine perspective.

Sherill Gow's production opens in the Claire Amos-designed minimalist apartment of Texan Rhonda Louise, played by Clara Perez. She and her two best friends are each age 30 and at different places on the snakes and ladders board of man hunting.

Rhonda Louise may have kicked out the love of her life (or more likely vice versa) but is still closely attached to his old red sneakers. Cool blonde Billie (Lisa Jedan) has been happily married for three years to Sean McConaghy's dull Bob in a relationship that is tediously faithful, as both proclaim.

The focus of Rhonda Louise and Billie's attention is tiny Judy, given a finely nuanced portrayal by Kosha Engler. She has been sexily deprived for far too long and is cruelly but all too accurately labelled a fag hag as a result of her uncanny ability to attract closet and even open homosexuals.

After some witty debate and repartee, Billie decides to set Judy up with a blind date and unwisely tells each of the parties to open up and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - advice that she almost instantly regrets.

Duke, played by a very relaxed Victor Perez, is a surprise in more ways than one. He is black, beautiful, sophisticated and a stud in the most complimentary or derogatory sense of the word, depending upon your views on sexual profligacy. The date starts frosty but soon hots up and the consequences are both cheering and amusing.

The women retrench for debrief in the fourth and final scene, where enough home truths are revealed to make this into a very high quality drama about sexual politics that manages to combine humour with insight to great effect.

Since it is so hard to see any plays by John Patrick Shanley in London, the wise should rush along to the Angel to catch this delightful comedy before its short run ends.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher