Girl crazy 

Girl Meets Girl a sitcom for voyeurs

In new promos for "The Chris Isaak Show," the singing star identifies one of the advantages of having a series on pay cable: "Did I mention the nudity?" It's the kind of line that purports to be ironic, but sincerely wants to capitalize on the show's skin as a selling point.

The romantic comedy Girl Meets Girl, an out-of-town production at 7 Stages' Back Stage, leaves you with a similar impression. By no means is Craig Fox and Sally Stover's play a lesbian peep show, but its unabashed appreciation of the female form is certainly its most memorable quality, especially given the script's significant trouble spots.

The playwrights launch the action in a headlong rush to introduce the characters. Girl Meets Girl begins with a surprise 35th birthday party for Anita (Megan Harding), the disgruntled managing editor of Out magazine in San Francisco. One of her friends raises a glass -- of organic champagne -- to toast the assembled, conveniently providing the audience with the characters' names and relationships: earth mother Glory (Camille Bird), young punk Bud (Mercury), college professor Lois (Dylan Yates) and Lois' awkward partner Kim (Angie Bush).

The festivities climax, so to speak, with the arrival of a policewoman who turns out to be an "erotic performance artist" named Annie (Jamie Cotton). Though hired to strip for the party, she quickly reveals an interest in Anita that's not part of her service. The play's first act focuses on the pair's whirlwind love affair, with prim Anita trying to sort out her feelings for Annie, a former porn star with plenty of joie de vivre.

Some of Girl Meets Girl's best elements involve physical comedy. When shy Anita gets a massage, she labors to keep her sweater pressed tightly to her chest when lying down on a table and then rolling over. The script also has more self-consciously theatrical moments when Annie takes photos of some of the other women, giving them convenient excuses for monologues.

But the speeches provide moments of quiet, natural acting, while the play's attempts at banter feel more forced. At times the repartee is so speeded up that the players give no pretense at listening or reacting to what each other says. The playwright's quippy dialogue with of-the-moment pop references seems more cued for television than the stage, although it's sometimes amusing; when someone reveals she was once married to a man, the other reacts, "That's so Anne Heche." Whenever a character does something embarrassing -- Anita experiments with phone sex on the desk of her office -- you can predict that someone will barge in.

Other plot threads find Bud taking advantage of lonely Glory's good nature, and sex-starved Kim wondering why Lois doesn't give her more affection. When Anita and Annie decide to self-publish a book of erotic photos, Lois rails against pornography, echoing the feminist critiques of the 1970s. The speeches not only identify a lesbian generation gap, but sound like disclaimers to compensate for the frequent toplessness in the play itself.

Lois becomes the play's most intriguing yet least examined character. She argues violently against female objectification, but demonstrates a predatory attitude toward sex. The second act features surprises about her that make us wish Yates had more opportunity to explore her contradictions (and we also wonder how some of the characters have stayed friends through the years).

Several times Girl Meets Girl backs away from serious conflict just when it gets intriguing. The first act ends with Anita trying to deal with Annie's background as a sex worker, hinting at serious friction between them. But after the intermission, these issues have been unconvincingly shrugged away. The play leaves much of its plot unresolved, concluding with a visit to Vera Cruz and the cast in beachwear for a sitcom-style "stinger" at the end.

Girl Meets Girl reveals no more flesh than, say, Terence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, a script that nevertheless has considerably more depth and complexity. Girl Meets Girl proves amiable but superficial in several respects, but on one level in particular, it makes for a very happy night at the theater.

Girl Meets Girl plays through Jan. 20 at the Back Stage of 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Ave., at 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and 3 and 7 p.m. Sun. $15-20. 866-468-7630.


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