Tuesday, 21 May 2013 17:00

Theatre Review >> The Women @ Theatre West

Written by Tom Waldman, Theatre Reviewer
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A contemporary theatergoer attending a production of “The Women” by Clare Booth Luce should expect that men will squirm from embarrassment and guilt and that women will express audible disgust at female characters who seem pathetically naïve or deferential. Leaving the theater, both genders will reaffirm their relief that conditions are far better for women today than in 1936, when the play debuted on Broadway.

Such reactions were evident during the opening night performance of “The Women” at Theatre West in Hollywood. There’s no reason to think it will be different throughout the run. After all, male adultery is lightly dismissed by more than one female character as an understandable byproduct of men’s insecurities, vanity, and sex drive. Not even Congressman-elect Mark Sanford tried to make that case during his recent campaign.

But before you question the sanity of a company that would stage “The Women” in 2013, it must be said that on closer inspection, the play is more than a ridiculously arcane portrayal of sexual politics. There are 18 parts for women, and not one for men—a ratio that any feminist would endorse. More important for a general audience, Luce has supplied her women with many witty lines and very few speeches.

Under the direction of Arden Teresa Lewis, we are able to enjoy the humor while we still decry the attitudes. Lewis celebrates the shrewd and clever observations of many of these women, which at times even trump the embarrassing anachronisms.

Set in New York and Reno, the play’s central plot point involves an egregious, extended act of adultery that destroys the marriage of Mary (Maria Kress). Her plight receives little sympathy from her fellow socialites, who prefer caustic, cutting remarks to compassion.

Watching these exchanges, which also occur among other characters, it will be tempting for theatergoers to conclude that the author holds a decidedly sour and cynical view of female companionship. But one should not confuse comedic style with psychological truth in “The Women” any more than viewers of the various “Housewives” reality shows should believe they are receiving hidden knowledge of how adult females interact when left to themselves.

From the opening moment at Theatre West, when Sylvia (Leona Britton) swishes onto the ample stage, speaking in the high-pitched tones of the Depression-era upper crust, we know that the play will be as much about class as gender. For this production, set designer David Offner has filled the space with enough period pieces to satisfy an entire episode of “Antiques Roadshow.”

The women in “The Women” are either rich or serve those who are. With a few exceptions, they are all rather odd; too much time spent in beauty salons and mansions can have that effect on anyone. There are no duds among the 18 performances and some that are excellent. Heather Alyse Becker shines in the dual roles of a young manicurist, speaking in what we would think of as a typical New York accent, and a bizarre exercise instructor who pokes her clients with a stick. Anne Leyden (Edith) conspires and dishes with delight. In the role of Mary’s mother, Sandra Tucker is convincing as the world-wise pragmatist who has seen too much and lived too long to know that men will ever change.

Of special note is the performance of Maria Kress whose wordless conveying of surprise and hurt beautifully render Mary’s sad plight to an audience that’s otherwise laughing at the repartee. “The Women” runs Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., through June 9. Tickets range from $28 to $5 (students under 25 with I.D.). Tickets may be purchased by calling 323-851-7977 or online at www.theatrewest.org. Theatre West is located at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles.

 

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