WOMEN OF MANHATTAN, Open Eye Productions, at O Bar & Cafe. John Patrick Shanley has a gift for witty, poetic dialogue and for warm, fascinating, three-dimensional characters of the sort who populate Moonstruck. But frequently he stumbles when he has to knit his dialogue and characters into a coherent story.

So his short, sweet 1986 Women of Manhattan is a revelation. In this 90-minute two-act, Shanley tells the story of three young New Yorkers facing three different romantic challenges. Rhonda Louise has just broken up with someone and is learning to live alone again. Billie’s wonderful marriage suddenly seems on the verge of cracking up. And Judy keeps falling in love with gay men. In four gracefully written scenes Shanley resolves their crises, or at least points the way to their eventual resolution, without sacrificing either the believability of his tales of urban woe or the show’s entertainment value: much of this heartfelt comedy is hilarious.

Bridget Crawford’s staging begins slowly and stiffly–Sara Elesh and Laura McKenzie seem to take forever to settle into their characters. But once everyone has gotten warmed up, after about ten minutes, the show just flies. Jennifer Fisk and Jason Lee as the vaguely dissatisfied married lady and her seductive potential new boyfriend turn in the kind of warm, funny, sexy performances that make you wish the play would never end. Or at least that Shanley had written more plays this good so that we could see Fisk and Lee tackle them too. –Jack Helbig