Clare Boothe Luce's saucy and acidic play "The Women" was a brave offering in 1939 and one the critics panned. Audiences, however, loved the story about a group of back-biting, malicious socialite friends who will rise above everything to maintain their personal pride. The Old Globe's production of "The Women" runs through Oct. 26, and the show is grand in every aspect.
The play features a cast of 15 women and is set in the late 1930s in a society where women don't work and their lavish lifestyles afford them every luxury imaginable. Although there are no men in the play, the women's wonderful performances make us believe the men in their lives will pop on stage at any moment.
Mary Haines (Kate Baldwin) is so occupied with her pampered friends and raising her daughter (Kayla Solsbak) she hardly notices that her husband Steven is rarely home – until her friends bring it to her attention. When the flamboyant Sylvia Fowler (Heather Ayers) learns from her manicurist at Saks that Steven is dating a clerk in the store, she can't wait to tell all the girls.
Each friend has her own way of dealing with the news once Mary finds out. Sylvia thinks it's no big deal - and why would she? She's living with a husband whom she thinks is impudent but loves spending his money. Peggy (Amanda Kramer) is a sweet innocent who does not have money and truly feels sorry for her friend. Edith (Amy Hohn) is the comedic one in the group. She's a birth machine with lots of kids and finds the women's cattiness trivial.
"The Women" is not so much about a plot as it is about its characters that stand out with their fast-paced witty dialogue, some of which fires off so rapidly and low-voiced, it's easy to miss what some of the actors say. Some characters are so bold they're hilarious. Ruth Williamson plays the Countess de Lage, a dowager who shows up in Reno where Mary goes for her divorce. The Countess' take on life is one amusing barb after another, especially when offering advice she's learned from all of her marriages. But it's Williamson's presentation that makes her a favorite in the show.
A good story must have its scoundrels and this play has several. Kathleen McElfresh is quite amusing as Crystal Allen, the sexy and tart femme fatale who stole and married Mary's husband. There's a scene with her in a lavish bathtub that bubbles with excitement and changes the course of her future. Steven's straight-laced secretary (Jenn Harris) is a hoot when she brings divorce papers to Mary and spouts her virtue as a woman "who doesn't whine." Nancy Anderson adds depth to the story through several songs and as the temptress Miriam Aarons.
The Globe's incredible team gets credit for much of the enjoyment of "The Women." Darko Tresnjak has masterfully directed a very complex show both in content and visuals. The set designs by David P. Gordon are extraordinary yet minimal. The art decor style of the 1930s with lots of black glass and sharp angles set the mood perfectly. Costumes by Anna R. Oliver are jaw-dropping. Each beautiful gown overwhelms, and each actress wears her own as if she was born in it.
George Cukor turned Luce's play into a wonderful 1939 comedy starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. It embodies every aspect of this delightful tale. This month, a remake of "The Women" hit the big screen. It stars Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes and Annette Bening, and it's a mess, missing every enjoyable beat of its predecessors.
"The Women" offers a wonderful window through which to observe an opulent lifestyle and bitchy women, but also to laugh at the absurdity of their lives and the extent they will go to maintain their decorum. It's marvelous entertainment for both sexes.
Through Oct. 26
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way