By Kevin Zimmerman
In his director’s note for Pamela Enz’s play “City Girls & Desperadoes,” now at the Secret Theatre, Richard Mazda writes that it “is not about drugs, sex or dealing,” but rather “is a play about relationships within that bankrupt yet thrilling late ’70s New York City world.”
That’s not to say drugs, sex and dealing don’t drive this story about six New Yorkers getting through life by playing a game of musical bedrooms, strung out on a ton of white powder snorted up their noses.
Dani, played to perfection by Julie Atlas Muz, sells cocaine from her Second Avenue apartment.
She juggles visits from her supplier Rita (a very funny Karina Ortiz) and her lover Arthur (Austin Pendleton in a raw and honest performance), while she goes through life in a drug-induced stupor as a form of self-medication. Rita and her girlfriend Lilli (a hilarious Connie Castanzo) drop in and out of Dani’s apartment to fool around and offer samples of their wares.
Dani laments the fact the world won’t let her “sit out on the side,” but insists she live with her pain and longing. “The only thing lonelier than dying is living,” Rita tells her.
At the onset, Dani does not seem that lonely.
The evening begins with a graphic scene as Muz and Pendleton—both completely naked—simulate sex.
While it hits the audience with a jolt, the scene still comes across as two people expressing the love they feel for each other. As these characters relax in their post-coital glow, it becomes clear that they both deal drugs and that Arthur is married to someone else.
Arthur’s wife, Susan, played by Annette Benda Fox, slaps the two back to reality when she calls Dani’s apartment looking for her husband.
Later, Arthur complicates matters when he brings Susan, or Susie as she introduces herself, to Dani’s birthday party. Armed with an ice cream cake in honor of the celebration, Susie does not hide her disdain for this other woman.
But Dani keeps the upper hand, delivering a few of the evening’s funnier lines, such as “I don’t trust any woman over the age of 20 who goes by Susie.” Holding the frozen dessert, Dani roams the apartment looking for a knife and lamenting the fact that it “is going to take two weeks to defrost.”
By the end of the party, Susie’s blood has spilled over the cake and Arthur admits that he never loved Dani.
As Act II begins, Dani has moved on and is living with much younger actor Gary, played by Peter Collier, who believes he can save this lost woman from herself.
But instead of him getting the coke out of her system, Gary succeeds in developing his own habit.
Arthur returns and now confesses his love for Dani, who realizes existing in a world of numbness is not a life worth living.
“I have to start feeling or I’ll die,” Dani says.
If you Go
“City Girls & Desperadoes”
When: Through Jan. 17
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City
Contact: (718) 392-0722
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm