No Way to Treat a Lady Arts Theatre
NO WAY To Treat A Lady is not so much a "boy meets girl" story as a "mother's boy meets mother's boy" one.

Based on the same novel that gave rise to a 1967 Rod Steiger movie, Douglas J Cohen's nifty off-Broadway musical focuses on two very different New Yorkers with extremely complimentary fixations - and at least one of them winds up with alter-ego all over his face.

Played with a butchly malevolent flamboyance by Tim Flavin, Kit Gill is the son of a recently deceased great actress whose lofty scorn for his talents continues to haunt him and give him a raging need for applause.

Unable to appease her ghost on the stage, he turns himself into a multiple strangler with a theatrical taste in impersonations. His aim: to hit the headlines of The New York Times.

To further this ambition, he makes a telephone confidant of Morris Brummell (Paul Bown), the homely loser of a detective assigned to the case. With the kind of relentless live-in Jewish mother who would make Chinese water torture feel like hydrotherapy and an overshadowing hotshot medic brother, Morris, too, knows all about the craving for emancipation and public recognition.

So here's an antagonistic situation that the two can exploit for mutual benefit.

Proficient rather than inspired, Cohen's score gives Kit teasing, bad- taste music to murder by (a la Sweeney Todd).

The show is also a bit slackly sub-Sondheimian intracing a link between aggressively thrusting showbiz values and criminal instincts and in nagging at the same morsel of melody and range of rhymes.

Neil Narcus's production needs more edge and Claire Lyth's multi-purpose set is tatty. But the cast are winning, especially Donna McKechnie, who assumes a vivid, bewildering variety of identities.

On the whole, a pretty pleasurable way of treating an audience.