The Women

The Women

The Women
Maureen Keiller and Georgia Lyman
Next door at the BCA's Roberts Studio Theatre we have almost the opposite situation: one of our most established theatre companies (SpeakEasy Stage Company) performing a classic play (The Women) in a relatively straightforward rendition. Director Scott Edmiston wisely gets his ladies on stage and then lets them do what they do best without too many bells and whistles. And this stage is filled with just about the best set of actresses I've ever seen assembled. The play centers on Mary Haines (Anne Gottlieb), a sweet woman married to a successful businessman. Mary's biggest flaw, at least at the start of the play, is her choice of friends, a bunch of gossipy, catty women whose happiness seems dependent on the suffering of others. Of course, what may be misery for the characters is pure delight for the audience, and Clare Boothe Luce's script is chock full of bon mots deliciously delivered at a breakneck pace.

Leading the charge is the hilarious Maureen Keiller as Sylvia Fowler - imagine Christine Baranski playing Dorothy Parker in a foul mood, and I mean that in the best possible way. Nancy E. Carroll is the perfect counterweight as Nancy Blake, the acerbic narrator of the show whose deadpan delivery is an ideal balance to the larger than life Keiller. Gottlieb treads the middle ground, succeeding in the difficult job of creating a sympathetic, interesting, and real heroine amidst the verbal barrage of her friends. Gottlieb manages the most surprising trick in the show - making the audience care as much about the story as they do about the oratory acrobatics.

So much of the cast is so perfect, it's impossible to find descriptions of their performances, but trust me when I say that from the youngest (Sophie Rich as Little Mary) to the oldest (Mary Klug's Countess de Lage, or perhaps Alice Duffy's Mrs. Morehead) the cast sparkles. Georgia Lyman, as the "other woman" in Mary's husband's life, is a pro at the screwball-style machine-gun patter but occasionally missteps in her more dramatic scenes. But most of the missteps are minor in the scheme of this production.

The only serious flaw comes at the end of the first act, when for reasons entirely unclear to me Edmiston makes his directorial hand all too visible by inserting a musical number. The song isn't entirely inappropriate - Cole Porter's "Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor)" certainly captures Mary's mood at the end of the act, and one could envision it as background music during a filmic fade out on that scene. However, Edmiston brings out his entire cast of nearly two dozen women to belt out a jazzy rendition that dissolved much of the audience at the performance I attended into giggles.

Luckily, that moment is followed by intermission, enabling us all to regain our composure and erase the memory of the moment by the start of act two, which quickly returns to the high quality of the rest of the show.

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SpeakEasy Stage Company presents The Women, now through October 21 at the BCA Roberts Studio Theatre, 527 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. Tickets and times at BostonTheatreScene.com, 617-933-8600, or at the Calderwood Pavilion Box Office, 527 Tremont Street.


Photo: Mike Lovett