by Stephen Metcalfe

This brilliant 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.

New York Times - Theater Review

A Tough Woman In Thrall

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.

Mr. Metcalfe 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 casual sex.

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.

Surrounding 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 comic verve.

Emily's greedy 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 locales.

What romance 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.