JOHN FORD NOONAN'S "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking" is a smidgen of a play that is most comfortable in a cozy, intimate playhouse.
The offbeat two-character study is much too slight for Baltimore's Mechanic Theater, where it has become quite a different thing, serving now as a grandstand for Sandy Dennis and Elizabeth Ashley, two of our most idiosyncratic stage stars. But what an enjoyable sight it provides, these two great dames dishing up what amounts to their greatest hits.
Dennis plays Maude Mix, a rigidly regimented Westchester housewife with a House and Garden kitchen. Ashley is her new neighbor, Hannah Mae Bindler, newly arrived from Texas and looking for a friend. Over a period of six days, Maude spends her mornings deflecting downhome Hannah Mae's overpowering advances (and offstage, those of Hannah's husband Carl Joe). But Hannah Mae begins to wear down her defenses, and as the women chat about their husbands, housework and secret coffee blends, wrestle on the kitchen floor and take off for a gal's night out in New York, a feasible friendship germinates.
Noonan's play is loaded with fussy stage business for both actresses, lots of housekeeping details. And director Dorothy Lyman urges Dennis and Ashley to embellish even further, making the characters over in their own likenesses.
They both look great, and it's tremendous fun to see them acting all over the place. Dennis, in Ann Taylor pink and green, runs through her vast bag of tics: She inflates her cheeks, makes fish lips, draaaags out consonants, winces, gulps and giggles mid-sentence, scratches her nose, waves her arms and dances like a monkey.
The formidable Ashley gives Hannah Mae both barrels of her "hot mama" persona, braying in her ashtray voice with a Texas twang that someone should bottle, strutting around in six slinky costumes, splaying and displaying her lithe legs on spike heels.
It takes the greater part of two hours for the play to jell -- Maude evades Hannah Mae's brazen overtures of friendship for far too long, and the good stuff comes when the two chicks just sit down and talk. But by the final curtain, you might find yourself wishing these unlikely neighbors would stay for another week -- or move in next door.
A COUPLA WHITE CHICKS SITTING AROUND TALKING -- At Baltimore's Morris A. Mechanic Theater through April 12.