The Women

By Sheila Barth
Oct. 4, 2006

Some plays never lose their poignancy or relevance. Such is the case with Clare Boothe Luce's biting satire "The Women," which last appeared on Broadway in 1936 and has reappeared throughout the years on stages globally. and as a hit movie. There have been several spin-offs of this 2-1/2-hour social satire, but the original remains the queen of female cattiness. But don't get the idea' this play is for women only. Men also enjoy it and laugh heartily.

Award-winning director Scott Edmiston, who has directed several plays at Gloucester Stage Co. and elsewhere, has done a great job conveying in full measure what Clare Boothe Luce intended - the back-stabbing, hair-pulling, gossiping, immoral, egotistical practices of leisurely wealthy women and their battle to control, retain their husbands and maneuver around their husbands' infidelities. It's also the social transition of woman from marital subservience -- from blue collar to blue blood -- to modern womanhood, verbalizing independence and winding up - gasp! --at the divorce ranch in Reno

These women play Bridge, patronize salons and health spas, dye and perm their hair, get manicures, air their furs and diamonds at lunch, and deliciously gossip about each other, spreading rumors to ensure they reach gossip columnists like Walter Winchell.

Their pseudo-friendly sarcasm is biting, stabbing. They pretend to
protect their friend from harm's ear after reveling in manicurist's and salesgirls' gossip about whose husband is "keeping" a tasty, perfume saleswoman from Sax or a chorus girl, yet gleefully let it slip out for wider circulation.

Instead of stereotypes, "The Women" has interesting, finely defined characters. Mary Haines, played well by Anne Gottlieb, is a wealthy mother of two who is confident in her husband's love, only to become shaken by the news that he's keeping a young blonde salesgirl. Sylvia, (Maureen Keiller) has a lethal tongue that lashes at her friends while indulging m self-praise (she's considered best dressed on Fifth Avenue and in the local gossip columns), and she secretly has a young lover.

Pretty, money-grasping, immoral salesgirl Crystal Allen (Georgia Lyman) dug her claws into Mary's husband and won him; aging Countess de Lage (Mary .Klug), who has been married three, four or five times (who's counting)?, is ditsy and provides comic relief; sweet, newly-marred Leggy (Aimee Doherty) adores her frugal husband, and became enmeshed with these socialites; and ever-pregnant, heavyset Edith Potter (Kerry A. Dowling) constantly complains, shamelessly dislikes her infants and giving birth - but retains her husband by doing so.

Satiric author Nancy Blake, played sharply by Nancy E, Carroll, is single, observes, interacts, intercedes and narrates. Character actress Ellen Colton portraying three characters -- gossip-mongering manicurist Olga, Reno divorce ranch manager Lucy, and a wealthy dowager -- is fun overall, and Alice Duffy, as Mary's doting; understanding mother, Mrs. Morehead, is delightful.

The entirely female cast of 20, including little Sophie Rich as Mary's little daughter, give solid performances. Their roles are strong and must be portrayed with precise timing, vituperative spouting, hair-pulling, name-calling, back-stabbing: candor; laced with . humor, and they do dust fine. They remind women why they never trusted their best friend meeting their beaux, or sharing real secrets with friends, for fear of hearing it on the grapevine in no time.  That's the way it was to Clare Boothe Luce's day, and it obviously hasn't changed, judging from the audience's enthusiastic applause.

Kudos also to Brynna Bloomfield on her spiffy, lavender set and Gail Astrid Buckley for her wonderful costumes.