THE WOMEN (1936)

by Claire Booth Luce
directed by Scott Edmiston
featuring Nancy Carroll, Anne Gottlieb, Kerry Dowling, Maureen Keiller,
Aimee Doherty, Georgia Lyman, Alice Duffy, Mary Klug, ,
Ellen Colton, Sonya Raye, Sophie Rich, Elizabeth Hayes,
Sandra Heffley, Elisa MacDonald, Sheryl Faye, Courtney Branigan,
Amanda Good Hennessey, Carol Sakalove, Kerrie Kitto & Shelley Brown
Speakeasy Stage Co. in Roberts Studio
BCA Calderwood, 529 Tremont / (617) 933 - 8600
through Oct. 21

Reviewed by Will Stackman

What do women want? Award-winning director Scott Edmiston has an inkling, and the twenty women, young and old, he's assembled this production of "The Women" bring Clare Booth Luce's 5th Ave. New Yorkers to vivid life. The cast includes several Norton and IRNE Best Actresses, including Nancy E. Carroll, Ellen Colton, Kerry Dowling, Anne Gottlieb, Maureen Keiller and Alice Duffy. Gottlieb is the center of the action as Mary Haines, who's fall and rise are worthy of her previous roles, including Cleopatra.

Carroll is the playwright's take on her friend and rival Dorothy Parker, here called Nancy Blake, a novelist with a deadpan wit. They're parts of a "set" which includes Keiller as the arch-gossip Sylvia Fowler, Dowling as perennially pregnant Edith Potter, and newlywed Peggy Day played by Aimee Doherty. Veteran comedienne Colton shows her range as a gossipy manicurist--the purveyor of Jungle Red nail polish-- the singing? cook, Lucy, at a Reno dude ranch, and finally as an affronted dowager. Alice Duffy is Mary's wise and unheeded mother while versatile Mary Klug gets to shine as the much married, perennially smitten and very rich Countess de Lage.

The villainess of this gem from the '30s is Georgia Lyman as golddigger Crystal Allen, who's found out by Mary's daughter, the youngest member of the cast, Winsor School student Sophie Rich, last seen in the New Rep's "Ragtime" as Tateh's daughter. Elizabeth Hayes, back in town, is Mary's Irish maid while Sandra Heffley plays Maggie,her gruff Irish cook, and shows up later as a nurse at latest Edith's lying-in. Sonya Raye plays Miriam Arons, a blues singer involved with Sylvia's husband. Elisa MacDonald shows up as a foundation model, a cigarette girl who claims to be a Communist, as well as Miss Trimmerback, a notary. Amanda Good Hennessey plays Mr. Haines' very efficient personal secretary. Carly Sakalove is Sylvia's exercise trainer--to little avail, while Cheryl Faye's main part is Crystal's French maid.

On the technical side, Edmiston and the cast are well-served by Brynna Bloomfield's elegant unit set which morphs seamlessly from Mary's living room to the manicurist's to an exclusive dress shop to a dude ranch to a posh powder room for the finale, with the help of Scott Clyve's lighting. Gail Astrid Buckley clothes the ladies in an array of fashion which sets the period but has a timeless touch. Jason Allen is responsible for appropriate hair and makeupDewey Dellay's score and sound design also supports the period, but the most striking musical moment is Will McGarrahan's vocal arrangement of Cole Porter's "Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor" for the entire cast at the end of the first act, with Carroll starting the tune off, while Gottlieb becomes the center of the action. This encapsulates this stunning show. The complex denouement, with the entire cast (minus one) onstage leading up to Mary's triumphant "Jungle Red" exit, is nonetheless effective.

Luce's satire has gone through various stages--and too many screen adaptations--since its first appearance on the Broadway stage for two years in the '30s. "The Women" gives a panoramic view of the pinnacle of NY society at the time but underneath is a well-plotted farce with a great deal of insight into character and relationships. Purportedly, Clare Booth Luce, who'd previously been known as short story writer and magazine editor began the play with observations of her own experiences in Reno. The action extends forward and backwards from this scene which starts the second half, resulting in a linear storyline in which seemingly flippant conversations become major elements. This ensemble production with its high-powered cast makes the most of her language. This play is a veritable text book on how to construct a large cast comedy. It's too bad that current financial considerations in our theatre limit its production. Not even large community theatres can afford such scale very often. And collegiate actors just don't have the life experience to make the characters really convincing. The performances that Edmiston has elicited have those extra personal touches which only experienced players can draw upon, the kind that require the sense of being an actor in real life sometimes called the Method.