Talking With Theater pieces by Jane Martin. Directed by Jon Jory.
The Manhattan Theater club has opened its second decade with a very special entertainment from the Actors Theater of Louisville. ''Talking With'' is a first work for the stage by Jane Martin. It consists of 11 solo pieces - each performed by a different actress - that might be described as falling somewhere between profiles and portraits in miniature.
The observations are acute yet delicately sensitive. The reflections are lifelike. The writing is lively, marked by a gift for transforming colloquial language into theatrical speech. The attitude is one of sincere affection. Miss Martin's characters emerge from the anonymity of the American scene. Each is a unique individual, self-identified, odd, idiosyncratic, rooted in a milieu, and distinctively articulate.
The heroines of these personal dramas range from an actress about to make her first entrance and a desperately weird auditioner (''You have a part - I need a part'') to a housewife who patches her life together with fantasies from the ''Oz'' books. A rough-tongued ex-rodeo rider sums up the commercialization of the American dream with ''If you love it, they can sell it. You're just merchandise to them.''
Yet ''Talking With'' is anything but downbeat. In a lovely and funny piece called ''French Fries,'' Miss Martin has written McDonald's definitive answer to Burger King.
Other vignettes touch on birth and death, on the mundane and the intangible. A small, intense baton twirler reviles the belittlers of her art and ultimately perceives in it a religious experience matched at quite another level by the snake handler of a fundamentalist cult (with a real snake).
''Talking With'' abounds in metaphors, perhaps nowhere expressed with more understated eloquence than in a spoken essay in which a woman who has filled a room with lamps explains what they mean to her. Night flying, she says, is ''like costume jewelry on velvet.'' The prism with which she illustrates the play of light could serve to describe the prismatic quality of this remarkable collection, the sum of whose individual parts equals a remarkably satisfying whole.