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The other 'Woman'

Pasadena Playhouse play about friends with bipolar disorder focuses on the wrong friend.

May 06, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Two problems with the title of Gary Socol's new play at the Pasadena Playhouse, "Bicoastal Woman": The title character is not bicoastal, and she is the less interesting of the play's two women. She shouldn't be the primary focus.

Chloe Webb, as the best friend of the title character, is much more memorable than Susan Clark as the non-bicoastal woman herself. If this were TV -- and sometimes it feels like TV -- Webb might get her own spinoff series, although that would require a major rewrite of this original script.

In any medium, these women are unlikely pals.

Glenda (Clark) is a Manhattan book editor whose long marriage has just disintegrated. She and her husband hadn't had sex in a decade, nor has she visited anyone else's bedroom lately.

Younger and never-married Joy (Webb), on the other hand, seems to take her sexual cues from the ravenous Samantha character on "Sex and the City." By trade, she's a makeup artist in the fashion industry.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Theater review -- A review of the play "Bicoastal Woman" that appeared in Calendar on May 6 mistakenly referred to the character Joy as being bipolar. The character is clinically depressed.

The newly emancipated Glenda now wants to go out only with men who can knowledgeably discuss great writers such as, to take a particularly pertinent example, Sylvia Plath. This is not a criterion that concerns Joy, who doesn't appear to read much of anything and hardly ever spends the night with the same man twice.

So what draws these two women together? We soon learn that they're both bipolar. After meeting and bonding at a mental institution seven years ago, their friendship survived because of their mutual affliction. They have a little ritual in which they take turns comparing themselves to "normal people."

They aren't bicoastal at all, but Glenda has a funny line in which she explains why she prefers "bicoastal" to "bipolar."

Socol's play, seemingly light and breezy as it begins, doesn't stay that way for long. Glenda has the first breakdown. But after we return from intermission, we learn she has returned to an even keel through a return visit to the same institution where the two women met. Then Joy falls apart. With only two acts and one intermission, Joy doesn't get a chance to heal.

The play has one other onstage character. Paul (William Katt) is the doorman in Glenda's posh apartment, where the entire play is set, as well as a struggling author. Immediately upon hearing that Glenda has separated from her husband, he comes on to her, apparently with mixed motives. He surreptitiously places a manuscript on her coffee table.

It's a halfhearted attempt to make Paul a more complex character. His possibly careerist goals are seldom mentioned later in the play -- and then by Joy, not Glenda.

Later, we learn that this doorman conveniently has a graduate degree in Glenda's field. He's hired to teach English at a community college near L.A. This raises the possibility that Glenda may eventually become a "bicoastal woman" after all, and it douses the issue of cross-class romance that had briefly flickered.

The relationship between Glenda and Paul is hazy in the script, and director Jenny Sullivan and the two actors haven't begun to clarify it.

The play comes alive only when Webb takes over. Some of this is in the script -- Joy's lines are less generic as well as funnier than the others. But much of it is attributable to the sense that Webb is well cast and fully inhabiting her role, in contrast to Clark and Katt.

In the second act, we hear that Joy has finally found a man she can love. She tells her new beau about her mental illness. Too bad this scene takes place offstage -- we simply hear her account of it, without meeting the man. Nor do we meet Glenda's estranged husband, who spent years coping -- or not coping -- with her condition. The onstage presence of either or both of these men instead of the clumsily written Paul would strengthen the play.


'Bicoastal Woman'

Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave.

When: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m.

Ends: June 1

Price: $29.50 to $44.50

Contact: (626) 356-7529

Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

Susan Clark...Glenda Mortimer

Chloe Webb...Joy Lucchesi

William Katt...Paul Strickland

By Gary Socol. Directed by Jenny Sullivan. Sets by Gary Wissmann. Costumes by Ela Jo Erwin. Lighting by Paulie Jenkins. Music/sound by Steven Cahill. Production stage manager Jill Gold

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