Gary Socol peruses the dark corridors of mental illness in this three-character legiter, preeming at the venerable Pasadena Playhouse. He instills an intriguing amalgam of humor and pathos into the interactions of Gotham pals Glenda (Susan Clark) and Joy (Chloe Webb), two women with bipolar disorder whose friendship was forged seven years earlier at an in-patient mental clinic. However, Socol fails to develop his plot beyond the traumas this disorder causes both women. Their real lives are discussed, but the play becomes mired in their manic efforts to be “normal.” Helmer Jenny Sullivan guides her capable ensemble fluidly through the peaks and valley of Socol’s emotional roller-coaster ride but can’t implant a sorely needed dramatic throughline that isn’t there.
Set in Glenda’s upscale Upper Westside digs (sumptuously wrought by Gary Wissmann), the play’s deceptively lighthearted opening scene exudes all the sophisticated, comic-laden ingredients of a TV sitcom pilot. Successful middle-aged book editor Glenda has just thrown out her husband of many years; they haven’t had sex in 10 years. Giddy over her newly declared freedom, Glenda is immediately joined by her younger best friend Joy, a wise-cracking fashion industry makeup artist who glories in her daily sexual encounters with men she probably will never see again.
The Glenda/Joy banter eventually reveals the foundation of their friendship. They need each other to remain sane. Socol offers many creative variations on this theme, from lovingly irreverent — Glenda observes the irony of “a clinically depressed woman named Joy” — to calmly supportive — Joy calmly guides Glenda back to reality when the latter goes on a manic spending spree. And they both suffer the horrific consequences when overconfidence leads each to go off her needed meds.
As performed by Clark (“Webster”) and Webb (“Sid and Nancy”), these women are such interesting personalities that it’s disheartening to see the writer simply run out of ideas for what to do with them.
What isn’t needed is the inclusion of such a misconceived character as Paul (William Katt). Attempting to instill some variation into the proceedings, no matter how preposterous, Socol has created a doorman who actually is an aspiring novelist with a graduate degree in the same field of study that “coincidentally” is Glenda’s area of expertise. Glenda’s hubby is barely out the door when the much younger Paul launches an understated but aggressive campaign to win her heart. There is some nonsense about his having the ulterior motive of getting her to read his unpublished manuscript, but that, like many aspects of this work, is not developed. Katt is boyishly winning as the dedicated pursuer, despite the character’s lack of veracity.
“Bicoastal Woman” needs a serious rethink and rewrite if it is to move beyond its current incarnation. What does work right now is the production values. Wissmann’s set, Paulie Jenkins’ lighting, Ela Jo Erwin’s costumes and Steven Cahill’s music and sound design unite to create a perfect atmosphere for this modern-day Manhattan tale.