'Girls Talk'

"Girls Talk" illustrates not how powder room chat becomes theater but how theater becomes television.

Writer-helmer Roger Kumble (“Cruel Intentions”), having previously delivered himself of a trilogy of Mamet-lite plays exposing Hollywood dudes, zeroes in on showbiz’s distaff side in “Girls Talk” at the Marilyn Monroe. Its artificial though well-acted encounters among fortyish Bel Air ladies struggling to manage a full work schedule and full diapers have some teeth to make up for the absence of a civil tongue. Admire it or not, “Girls Talk” illustrates not how powder room chat becomes theater but how theater becomes television.

Brooke Shields, strapped to a breastmilk pump, sets up the “sit” in this sitcom as Lori Rosen, once a name screenwriter who married and now raises a 4-year-old and newborn twins. She’s so busy nailing down playdates with Suri Cruise and eyeballing new nanny Zuza (Eileen Galindo), neither she nor we get a good initial sense of the regret underlying her life decisions, though Kumble will milk it with a pump later.

The doorbell announces a troupe of wacky friends and neighbors worthy of Norman Lear, notably fellow moms Scarlett (Nicole Paggi), a blonde bombshell undaunted by being the only shiksa at Temple Jerusalem; and Jane (Andrea Bendewald), the Internet’s famed “Mommie Maven” hoisting her infant around in a sling. The tart Rhoda contrasting with these Marys and Phyllises is the unmarried Claire (Constance Zimmer), Lori’s ex-writing partner and Jane’s old nemesis.

There ensues a half-hour of teeth-grinding profanities and name-dropping zingers of questionable freshness and sell-by date. (“Where is Persia?” “It used to be in the Middle East but now it’s somewhere between Doheny and Beverly Glen.”) And then, like a very special “Maude” episode suddenly turning melodramatic, Kumble’s setup yields a punch: Lori and Claire are to meet about writing Oprah’s directing debut on the very day of the preschool fund-raiser Lori has agreed to chair.

This dilemma, turning down big-time employment vs. potentially poisoning the well of her daughter’s educational future (“It’s like ‘Sophie’s Choice!’” squeals Scarlett), is of course preposterous. Oprah of all people would understand a celeb mom’s needs. Alternatively, Lori has enough money to hire so many full-time organizers no one would even notice she skipped the event, and even if they did, they’d laud rather than chastise her for a Winfrey connection the school could brag about.

That events become so absorbing despite the contrivance is partly because Kumble sets aside the details for an incisive consideration of motherhood vs. career in general. Mostly it’s due to the cast’s skill: Shields has never been more confident or winning, and Bendewald and Zimmer are equally matched as formidable confidantes at cross purposes.

Paggi is touching, but Scarlett’s story is unsatisfactorily rounded out, and the amusing Zuza is never more than the butt of jokes about her fondness for tamales and ineptitude with technology. Still, when all is said and done, we’re left with an impression of something rather high stakes, worked out in something not unlike a real-life fashion.

Tom Buderwitz’s sturdy living room setting is carefully detailed, and you can picture three cameras moving about, though he and Kumble might have noticed how the furniture plot forces the thesps to upstage each other constantly.

Girls Talk

Marilyn Monroe Theater, West Hollywood; 99 seats; $34 top

Production

A Roger Kumble, David Elzer and Molly O'Keefe presentation of a play in one act written and directed by Kumble.

Creative

Sets, Tom Buderwitz; costumes, Ann Closs-Farley; lighting, Christie Wright Gilmore; sound, Doug Newell; production stage managers, Patricia Sutherland, Shaunessey Quinn. Opened, reviewed March 18, 2011. Runs through April 24. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast

Lori - Brooke Shields
Jane - Andrea Bendewald
Claire - Constance Zimmer
Scarlett - Nicole Paggi
Zuza - Eileen Galindo
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