Walterdale breathes new life into Clare Booth Luce’s The Women
Written in an era where women weren’t often seen as independent of their father or their husband and children, Clare Boothe Luce’s acute 1936 play still rings true in many ways. Commenting on such topics as class, power, and gender, The Women has a quality of timelessness, both in its humour and its more serious tones.
The play’s brilliance rests in its ability to use said humour to tell the story of the female plight in the early 20th century. The four Manhattan socialites of high class and wealth don’t have much else to think of but the latest gossip, which ends up propelling the entire story. No men actually appear in the story, though they regularly feature in the words and mentions of each of the women.
The Women is a period piece in its essence written over 80 years ago, the cast and their problems still appeal to women today who have cracked open issues with slogans like #metoo and #timesup. In her director’s notes, Catherine Wenschlag mentions this relevance and the collective fight women have fought for during eras of change like the ‘60s and the one we live in today. A monumentally forward woman for her time, Luce’s work has been taken from Broadway (1936) to film (1939), to theatre (1973, 2001), and back again to film (2008). Needless to say, it’s made its mark.
Much as the title hints, the audience of the play was predominantly female and the odd male that spotted the nearly-full Walterdale Theatre appeared attached to a female counterpart—the irony!
The Walterdale’s production, a hefty two-and-a-half hours including intermission, had every potential to be a doozy of a bore, but instead kept the pace making use of Luce’s funny quips spread evenly throughout. Ie: Jenn Robinson’s (Edith Potter) “If men had babies, families would never have more than one child!”
Mandy Stewart stole a sizeable chunk of the show’s chuckles with her hilarious physical humour echoing the dippy Mrs. John Day. But Trish van Doornum also must be praised for her extravagantly ridiculous and all-too-dramatic Countess de Lage and Nicole Lemay’s sly Sylvia Fowler, who propels much of the play’s drama.
And the scene changes, each done by a handful of the 17 actresses who play 33 roles total, perfectly embody how women relate to one another, with energetic chit-chat and warm laughs as they move props to prepare for the next scene.
With the majority of the cast dressed in wonderful era-appropriate dresses (Sylvia’s marvelous stand-out green shift comes to mind) and amazing, may I add, hairstyles by Sandy Roberts, the out-of-era Nancy Blake was perhaps slightly too far out. Wearing skinny jeans, high boots and a modern blazer made it all too easy to misplace her as a woman running errands around the city today.
The Walterdale’s take on the ‘30s classic held the mirror up at just the right angle to show the still-pressing societal reflections. And although the incessant gossiping, pettiness, and vanity of the four leads can wear on a modern woman who grew up doing things for herself, the point is to understand where we collectively come from and where we’ve gone as well as learn to laugh at ourselves, which is undoubtedly what the Walterdale’s production of The Women does.
Until Sat., Feb. 17 (8 pm)