A Review

The Ladies Who Lunch

By R. J. Donovan

The kid gloves are off and the claws are out in "The Women," Clare Boothe Luce's biting satire of position and gender now getting a glowing production from SpeakEasy Stage Company.

Originally presented on Broadway in 1936, "The Women" looks at a group of fairly bored ladies of privilege who dish and hiss and bitch and moan their way through life, mostly because they've got noting better to do. At the center is Mary Haines (Anne Gottlieb, left). Her hubby, previously thought to be totally devoted, is fooling around with Crystal (Georgia Lyman, above right). Her best bud Sylvia knows all about it and can't wait to share the information behind her back.

This is a world where gossip is currency. Those in the know flaunt the inside information, lauding it over those poor simps still in the dark.

Mary turns out to be the last to find out about the eminent dissolution of her own marriage. Rather than mercifully getting the hurtful details from someone within her own circle, she hears the torrid tale from a loud-mouth manicurist who can't wait to tell what SHE knows, unaware the subject she's dishing about is the very women whose nails she's filing.

And so divorce is on the horizon for Mary, as well as several of her friends, who head to Reno for paperwork and processing. Along the way, the ladies engage in an blistering jousting match for the well-heeled.

Director Scott Edmiston makes it all taut and fresh, thanks to a first class cast. The central voice of the playwright (and pseudo narrator) is acerbic novelist Nancy Blake, played by Nancy E. Carroll. She immediately sets the pace with her dead pan delivery of scathing comments.

Kerry A. Dowling is all pouty and complaining as the ever-pregnant Edith Potter who can't possibly make it through one more moment of her life. Maureen Keiller is the deadly Sylvia, flashing her eyes along with her fangs. Ellen Colton is Olga, the manicurist. And Sandra Heffley is priceless as Maggie, commiserating with Jane (Elizabeth Hayes) the Haines' housekeeper.

Finally, there's the delightful Countess de Lage (Mary Klug, at left), who reigns as the dippy, dowager of the bunch. We first meet her in the salon with her head encased in a Christmas Tree of a hair dryer. Teetering on her high heels through flowing ball gowns and diamond-dripping dude ranch duds, she collects husbands like they're charms on a bracelet to be catalogued and enjoyed for their beauty. Through it all she's a wealth of life experiences and frank comments, all of them delivered with razor-sharp precision.

As the "other woman," Georgia Lyman is Crystal, the former shop girl who's got her eye on better goods. Lyman plays the role with a hard edge, giving the character an exclusively mean slant that allows for little shading.

Edmiston adds a nice touch to the night with two musical numbers, the best being the first act button. As Mary's life disintegrates, the cast slowly assembles to sing Cole Porter's "Down In The Depths" (On The 90th Floor)." It gives another wonderful dimension to an already colorful story.

SpeakEasy Stage and Lyric Stage are somewhat mirror images of each other at the moment. Both have shows with large casts. While SpeakEasy's hosting all the females in town with "The Women,"Lyric's housing all the men with "1776." The result? Two stylish productions well worth seeing. And lots of actors are currently employed.

The SpeakEasy Stage Company production of "The Women" is at Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston, through October 21. For information, call 617-933-8600.

Production Photos: Mike Lovett

-- OnStage Boston

09/28/06