Lonely Wives Club

'A Coupla White Chicks' exposes the dark side of love.

There's more to John Ford Noonan's A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking than the title, but not much.

For variety, one of the white chicks initially refuses to talk. The other one makes up for that. One of the white chicks has poorly motivated sex with the other's husband, but that happens between scenes, so we just have to take her word for it. Oh, and once the chicks have a knock-down fight, and then they run off to Manhattan together, but that last part also happens between scenes, so for all we know, they may really have just gone to Poughkeepsie.

Telling you all that won't spoil the play for you, because it's obvious from the first scene, when repressed Westchester County housewife Maude Mix throws her "passionate" ex-Texan neighbor Hannah Mae Bindler out of her kitchen, that the two chicks will soon bond. Opposites attract: That may not be a law of nature, but it's the first rule of commercial comedy writing. And Noonan does play by the rules.

The women bond mainly because their husbands are philanderers. In Maude's case, that's supposed to come to us as a surprise late in the play, but at the beginning, it's clear from the way Maude talks to him on the phone that the bastard's off screwing some bimbo. And of course, Maude and Hannah Mae put up with the philandering because their men always return to them. Ain't love grand.

Now, one could charitably see this play as a criticism of the treatment of well-off suburban housewives. While their husbands march on lower Manhattan's financial district to keep life safe for the Republican oligarchy, Westchester women are forced to stay home with nothing to do but read and jog and bake cookies and occasionally gaze into each other's glazed Stepford Wife eyes during meetings of the League of Women Voters.

But Noonan's writing isn't quite sharp enough to work as incisive social commentary. Noonan could have flooded his Cheeverland with salty satire, but instead he just sticks his finger in the Updike and allows only a few drops of sexual lubricant onto the stage.

This said, Live Theatre Workshop is doing a good job with A Coupla White Chicks. Under James Mitchell Gooden's direction, Amy Almquist (Maude) and Kristi Loera (Hannah Mae) play down the cartoon aspects of their characters and ultimately convince us that they are two lonely women--"suburban housewives with mortal wounds," as Maude puts it--seeking a private freedom together.

Although her character doesn't grow much through the play, Loera has the more difficult job. Hannah Mae is a loud, blonde Texan, and Noonan doesn't give an actress much reason to make her anything more than brassy and a little crude. (By the way, when trailer-trash Texans get rich and go to Westchester, do they move up to Quonset huts?) Loera, though, makes it clear that the more lonely and neglected and wronged Hannah Mae is, the more she is determined to draw on her inner strengths to enlist Maude in a quest for passionate living.

Almquist does everything she can to make us believe Maude's transition from an over-starched near-recluse doing laundry in heels and pearls to a vibrant figure beginning to engage in other people's lives. Almquist isn't afraid to be frankly unlikable in the beginning, not just cutely exasperated, and she shades Maude's eventual liberation with just a hint of panicky desperation.

A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking won't provide the depth of conversation you might wish, but Almquist and Loera make eavesdropping worthwhile.

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