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WOMEN OF MANHATTAN, Ground Up Theatre, at the Space. Behind the masks and quiet evasions of polite society lies another world, primal, irrational, and utterly contradictory–the one John Patrick Shanley lives in. That’s what makes his best plays powerful: his characters never really know their own minds, never really understand where they’re going or what they’re going to do. Yes, they all speak Shanley’s wonderfully witty, ear-pleasing street poetry–part Whitman, part Groucho, part Bronx. But what makes them fascinating is how much bubbles below the surface: playing the subtext in Shanley’s work is at least as important as speaking the lines correctly.

Director Sabrina Lloyd has obviously worked hard coaching her cast in exactly the right way to deliver the many marvelous monologues that are part of Women of Manhattan. But her actors utterly fail to express the deepest feelings in the play, about three women coping with single life in New York–its loneliness, fear, unexpressed longings, and scars. Even the extended seduction in the third scene is played as if Rhonda Louise and her blind date were negotiating a business transaction, not tangled up in the play’s central question: is it better to be alone and in control of your life or involved with someone and joyfully tangled up in the mess of human emotions?

Shanley always favors the joyful mess. Lloyd’s austere, shallow production favors control, which undercuts Shanley’s power and turns a fascinating, complex work into a tiresome one. –Jack Helbig