After women won the right to vote in this country, Clare Booth Luce sought to follow Oscar Wilde’s dramatic drawing room legacy with an epic drama on women—their plight, their virtues, their treachery. With forty actresses in this 1936 Broadway smash hit, this satirical comedy is powered by one-line zingers that make one chuckle. Yes, it’s about the battle of the sexes, but the men are absent. The ghost of Richard Sheridan’s The School for Scandal gently hovers in the background.
The Women, a three-act play, ably directed with comic panache by Lisa Lynds, presents all twelve complete scenes divided into two acts. The protagonist Mary Haines remains a difficult role to play and Tamara Cacchione, who acts with fragile pathos, must run the gamut from being naive and vulnerable, yet eventually graduating from her cynical school of high-society peers to enact witty revenge on her enemy, the vamp gold-digger, Crystal Allen, who stole Haines’ husband, played with narcissistic brio by Sabrina Roberts. Her scornful ambition is as delicious as it is immoral. The surfing waves of wit vary from snooty society to Appalachian realism. Molly Feibel as the practical, self-confident realist Edith Potter nearly steals the show with her line delivery and mugging.
Amy Gustin Millin as high-society Sylvia Fowler plays her patronizing role with cool aplomb. Louise Pillai as Mrs. Morehead played up to the sobriquet of her name and was level-headed amid the mayhem and insanity in which the women swam the breaststroke. Jesse Truin as Miriam was convincing in a difficult role. Diana Perretti as the gossipy pedicurist delivered a wonderful comic Russian accent that balanced adroitly between comedy and sincerity.
While the play pretends to be all about money, it remains a play about the heart: the heart aspiring, the heart rebuked, the heart triumphant. In this production the 40 actresses are reduced to twenty, so some actors play two to five roles. It is still surprising that many of the belly-laugh one-liners remain not only relevant, but a delightful, contemporary hoot.
Many young actresses romped in their small parts. Elizabeth Crew played four roles remarkably. Jane Langan as scheming Little Mary acted above her years. Costumes by Lobasang Camacho paraded his impeccable taste. The interval soundtracks selected by Lisa Lynds were simply wonderful: relevant famous songs long after the original production that provided greater cultural and personal critique.
In many ways The Women is a challenging play about acting. Real theater still lives in Rhinebeck. You could stay home and bemoan there is little to watch on television, except repetitive news, or go to the Center where the laughs and acting romp on with relevant archetypes. The Women is slated for a three-week run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons at The Center for Performing Arts.