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Women or Nothing

So there are two lesbians, right? And they want to have a baby, right? And one of them has found a potential donor - a colleague who is moving to Florida. She wants her partner to use his sperm for the baby. And the best part is that they won't tell him. They will go to great lengths to lure him to their apartment - no one at work knows they are gay and living together - and assume that he and the chosen woman will have sex. He will leave, move to Florida, and a baby will be brought into the world with the father none the wiser.

Were this 1980, something like this might fly. But as the play admits, it is 2012, so the idea of all this subterfuge makes this play set off to a bad start - which is not to say that this is a bad production. Between David Cromer's direction and the cast's very excellent performances, and most of the writing, this is a charming and poignant evening.

The women Laura (Susan Pourfar) and Gretchen (Haley Feiffer) are spectacular sparring partners, and the initial scene is fodder for their smarts and their debating skills. Gretchen insists that Laura can do this because it's a natural act. Laura, a concert pianist and a Gold Star Lesbian (ain't never been with a man) is against nature in every way. For instance it is not natural for her to be a concert pianist. It is against nature in every way. And when Gretchen (who cannot have children) asks what is the real problem Laura is blunt: There is a man involved.

Gretchen prevails and the plan is set in motion. Chuck (Robert Beitzel) arrives expecting to see Gretchen and instead finds her 'neighbor" Laura. Gretchen calls to say she has been unavoidable detained, as in she is on her way to Philadelphia, and it seems there is no alternative but for Chuck and Laura to drink away the time with some mind boggling conversation. Laura's nerves turn her into a conversational whizz bang and Chuck manages to hold up his end of the conversation as they cover everything from the worth of art, self perception and its many incarnations, and then of course sex.

Fast forward to the next morning, where Laura's mother Dorene (Deborah Rush) appears way too bright and early to wish Gretchen a happy birthday. Soon - and again the writing is delicious - she figures out what side of the bread has the butter on it this particular morning and spends a considerable amount of time interrogating Chuck while making confessions of her own.

All does not fall neatly into place, however, and Coen provides us with enough twists and turns to keep this story from falling into predictability. But the connections with reality are tenuous here, and ultimately this play falls into the realm of fantasy/romantic comedy. The only character that seemed real was Chuck, and he is a passerby. The others, while entertaining and even memorable, feel more like characters from a movie: clever, attractive, and not registered to vote in any district you might know.

Wonderful performances and some excellent sleight of hand both on the part of Cromer and Coen make this an evening of light fare that could have gone deeper if the original premise, two gay women deceiving a straight man for the sake of sperm, had been jettisoned and replaced by one with meat on its bones. Opportunity missed.

"The play is flawed from the, er, conception."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Think too much about this theatrical soufflé and it sinks flat."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"The problem is that the characters make ... little sense."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Doesn't make any sense at all."
Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

"An old-fashioned, and rather tired, problem comedy."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"The comedy never really comes to life."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"The play's conflicts don't take shape fully enough for its conclusion to be satisfying."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - The Record - The Hollywood Reporter

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