by Stephen Metcalfe
comedy by Stephen Metcalfe dares to take a politically incorrect
stance about successful women. Emily is a stockbroker who mixes
it up with the boys and always comes out on top. She is as cynical
and ruthless as any man in her position until she meets a caring,
sensitive actor who doesn't fall for her manipulative ruses. This
nice guy with no money sees the girl inside the ruthless yuppie
who may or may not exist.
York Times - Theater Review
Tough Woman In Thrall
By FRANK RICH
Published: April 25, 1988, Monday
Late in ''Emily,''
his new comedy at the Manhattan Theater Club, the writer Stephen
Metcalfe pays homage to an undying, totemic television image of
the 1970's. As the play's heroine, a New York stockbroker played
by Lisa Banes, arrives in Minnesota for a visit, she tosses her
hat in the air - just as Mary Tyler Moore did each week in the role
of the Minneapolis career woman Mary Richards, during the opening
credits of her long-running ''Mary Tyler Moore Show.'' Fans of that
series will recall that its theme song promised a bright future
for the smart, ambitious, single, quasi feminist Mary. ''You're
going to make it after all!'' went the lyric, as Mary jubilantly
tossed her hat.
means to update and correct that cheery prognosis. Like Mary Richards,
Emily Brown is witty, successful, attractive and unmarried, with
an overweight, man-hungry best friend as her second banana (Heather
Mac Rae, in the old Valerie Harper role). But Emily isn't going
to make it after all. In the playwright's view, she has turned herself
into a miserable exemplar of obnoxious masculine traits. For all
her discretionary income, Emily lives in an underfurnished, sterile
apartment and dresses only in conservatively cut business suits.
Her aggressive behavior in the Wall Street jungle extends to her
private life uptown. She regards love as nothing more than a matter
of ''secretions'' and makes sure that no man can get close enough
to demand anything more from her than the well-rehearsed ''personal
information'' she blurts out to meet the minimal preconditions for
Do women like
Emily exist? No doubt. Yet the principal, though by no means only,
difficulty with ''Emily'' is that Emily herself doesn't seem to
exist at all. In attempting to serve up a cautionary archetype for
our times, Mr. Metcalfe has created only a stereotype. His heroine
isn't so much a woman who behaves like an obnoxious man as a cartoonish
man in drag. Following Alan Ayckbourn's ''Woman in Mind,'' ''Emily''
is the second Manhattan Theater Club production this season in which
a male writer tries to enter the psyche of a contemporary woman
buffeted by the forces of social liberation, and, like its predecessor,
it places its title character in a tableau of psychological panic
for the final curtain. But ''Woman in Mind,'' however schematic
and sentimental, had an empathy for its heroine that is missing
in ''Emily.'' Mr. Metcalfe is always on the outside looking in.
As a result,
Ms. Banes, a good actress, has none of the opportunities afforded
Stockard Channing in the Ayckbourn play - even though she must work
nearly as hard, being on stage constantly. By turns asked to serve
as a coy and peppy comedic narrator, a cold manipulator and an abject
wretch doomed to a lonely old age, Ms. Banes tries to knit together
the character's unintegrated personality traits with strident nervous
energy. She's a tough woman to spend an evening with, though not
for the ideological reasons the author would have us believe.
Ms. Banes is a sprawling gallery of other Manhattan characters.
Most of them, starting with Emily's embittered, divorced mother
(Patricia Englund), are caricatured in the writing and in performance.
(Why is it that affluent middle-aged mothers of this play's type,
highly educated and underemployed, always turn out to be alumnae
of Vassar?) While ''Emily'' is written in the same hard-edged, cinematic
style as Mr. Metcalfe's previous ''Incredibly Famous Willy Rivers,''
a satire of the rock-music industry, it lacks that play's acrid
business cronies, with their Harvard M.B.A.'s and red suspenders,
could be ''Serious Money'' counterfeits. The jokes about yuppie
greed - to wit, ''World War would be wonderful for your investment
portfolio'' - are incredibly tired. The staging, by the gifted Gerald
Gutierrez, seems frantic and secondhand as well. When the production
doesn't recall Wendy Wasserstein's ''Isn't It Romantic'' - in which
Mr. Gutierrez also cast Ms. Banes as a new-wave New York business
woman in thrall to a chilly Mom - it looks like Joseph Dougherty's
''Digby,'' another Manhattan Theater Club post-feminist romantic
comedy that used slide projections to whirl us through its various
can be found in this evening comes from the one man who breaks through
Emily's defenses: a struggling actor who works as a waiter and who,
in an utterly unsurprising role reversal, proves as sensitive and
unambitious as the heroine is macho. Brian
Kerwin is modestly charming in the part, and his idealistic monologue
about the tenderness of male-female couplings is the single speech
in which a character seems to be stating an actual feeling rather
than illustrating the playwright's thesis. While ''Emily''
speaks at some length about women, it's Mr. Metcalfe's emotional
reticence beneath the rhetoric that is most telling, albeit on the
subject of men.