at Royal-George Theatre

A Girl’s Guide to Chaos!, now playing in the Gallery Theatre in the Royal-George, is the kind of play you’re embarrassed to admit you like. It’s cute; as a matter of fact, it’s downright perky. This isn’t about love between modern men and women, but about girls, girlfriends, and the problems of dating 80s guys.

Written by Playboy and Village Voice columnist Cynthia Heimel, A Girl’s Guide follows the life cycle of a relationship, from infancy to demise. The gladiators of love are Heimel’s alter ego and an unseen New Zealander hunk known only as the Kiwi. While they’re progressing, Heimel and her girlfriends flirt, moan, laugh, and grunt about the worst experience in the world–dating.

Culled from Heimel’s columns and other writings, the play is “lite” and frothy. Structurally it’s a bit unconventional, more the work of a pop writer than a playwright. The players address the audience with full introductions and talk to it as if it were a conscience, a buddy, a blank page in a diary. This, surprisingly, is what keeps it from taking itself too seriously or getting too smug. After all, we’re all pals; we’re all in on the same low joke.

Since the advent of liberation, Heimel tells us, role models have vanished. The rules are suspended and everyone on a date is making it up as they go along. Men have undergone not-so-subtle changes: they’ve evolved from brutes to Alan Alda hypersensitive types and back to slime again. “You’ve got to trust them, even when you’re not sure they’re trustworthy,” says one of Heimel’s friends. Still, coupling is instinctive–everyone insists on it, no matter what the odds.

But Heimel admits that the current chaotic state of dating is not just the men’s fault. Her heroines claim to want simple pleasures, but when a man follows their advice to just relax and greet them with a simple “Hi there, cutie,” the consequences say quite a bit about women and their own fear of intimacy. When the guy waves his first friendly “Hi there, cutie,” he’s met by a feisty feminist who suggests that he not be so patronizing. His second attempt is met with disbelief, and during his third, he realizes he’s face to face with an ex one-night stand.

This is mostly fun fluff, clever and often glib. It plays like a cartoon for adults. But in between there are plenty of recognizable, embarrassing truths; maybe some ground is being broken here, too. When the three girlfriends get a little drunk, their talk is surprisingly frank and graphic. Their ode to oral sex–and men’s reluctance to perform it–is too real, too funny, and even a little sad. We all laughed, but as much from discomfort as in response to Heimel’s funny lines. A lot of men seemed to be crossing their legs during this scene.

The occasional introspection in A Girl’s Guide usually comes from Lurene, the only working-class girl in the bunch. She isn’t really a part of Heimel’s upscale group of gals; she’s married and working various part-time gigs. But her reflections often underscore the difficulties of compromises, the fear of loneliness, and the comfort of an imperfect partner, She serves as counterpoint to the others, giving their quick, cool one-liners a darker shade.

Working under the direction of Diana Spinrad, the entire cast gives a great performance. Of particular note are Jane Blass and Josette Di Carlo, both naturals in their roles. By the end of the show, you want to take them out for a beer and tell them your stories.