Roger Kumble’s “Girls Talk,” premiering at the Lee Strasberg Theatre, is billed as a “vicious new play” and it lives up to both adjectives. Not even inserting “deliciously” or “bracingly” could oversell the fun of seeing L.A. society moms so gleefully skewered.
Kumble, the author of three previous plays about Hollywood strivers (“d girl,” “Pay or Play” and “Turnaround”) and a director of movies (“Cruel Intentions,” “Furry Vengeance”) turns his gimlet eye on Lori (Brooke Shields), a former screenwriter staying home with her kids. Her daily concerns — scheduling play dates, pumping breast milk, breaking in a new nanny with limited English (Eileen Galindo) — don’t excite her, but she can’t master them: “I keep ... up at the simplest tasks.”
Lori’s ex-writing partner, Claire (Constance Zimmer), tempts her back into the biz with a plum job. Unfortunately, Lori has agreed to co-chair the Temple Jerusalem Preschool fundraiser with power-crazed supermommy Jane (Andrea Bendewald), and the dates conflict. “It’s like Sophie’s Choice!” observes dim, sweet Scarlett (Nicole Paggi), a Southern belle who’s trying to ingratiate herself by converting to Judaism (“Shabbat Shalom, y’all!”). Although this comparison is intentionally ridiculous, Kumble does invest Lori’s dilemma with the suspense of a thriller.
The dialogue bristles with such accurate references (the Soho Club, the Center for Early Education, Betsy Brown Braun) that local moms may wonder if Kumble bugged their Mommy & Me groups while Tom Buderwitz (whose attractive, economical set evokes a large house in a very small space) was peeking in their windows.
Kumble doesn’t shy away from his characters’ prejudices (against Hispanics, Persians) and classism (“Have fun at L.A. Unified,” sneers Jane; it’s a threat). But one of the thrills of the play is how swiftly the audience’s sympathy gets bounced among the women. Zimmer’s Claire is a lot like the tough cookie (Dana Gordon) she’s played on “Entourage,” with even more prickly verve. During her battles with Jane, she owns the stage — and Bundewald co-owns it, playing up Jane’s not particularly subtle but enjoyable evil with a Mona Lisa simper and an icy stare.
Shields displays the ease and comic timing that worked so well on “Suddenly Susan,” although her Lori has a less likable side: insensitivity bordering on cruelty to the nanny, Zuza — whom Galindo transforms, in a handful of appearances, from a chipper, obtuse workhorse into a figure of touching loneliness.
By holding a mirror up to nature (well, Bel Air), “Girls Talk” may inspire some of us to behave better. If not, it still makes sensational local theater. But get your tickets early. There are likely to be catfights at the box office.
-- Margaret Gray
“Girls Talk,” the Lee Strasberg Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 24. $34. Contact: (800) 595-4849 or girlstalkplay.com. Running time: 90 minutes.
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Photo: Nicole Paggi, Brooke Shields, Andrea Bendewald and Constance Zimmer in "Girls Talk." Credit: Michael Lamont