By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minuts with one 15-minute intermission
Times change and gender roles aren’t so black and white anymore. Though equality may not be 100% today, the stereotypes of men and women have blurred and aside from child birth and those pesky hormones, estrogen and testosterone (which both exist in both sexes, mind you), I like to think men and women are on a pretty level playing field. Of course, I’m saying this as someone of the male persuasion (with many female tendencies, if you catch my drift). Spotlighters Theatre’s latest offering, The Women by Clare Booth Luce, Directed by Fuzz Roark, with Set Design by Alan Zemla, and Costume Design by Andrew Malone, Amy Weimer, and Darcy Elliott takes us back to a bygone era where women were expected to tend to home an children while men were expected to provide and, if a husband strayed, it was all good and no questions were asked as long as the wife kept lifestyle to which she was accustomed. As advertised, this is a play is called The Women… and it’s all about the men!
Briefly, The Women is a comedy of manners and a 1930s commentary about the high class lives and power plays of wealthy socialites of Manhattan and the gossip that guides and ruins relationships, namely for women. Most of the discussions are about the men with which these women are involved and though the men are important to the plot, they strictly talked about but never seen.
The Women was written and first produced in 1936 and later adapted into an uber successful film in 1939 starring some of the top actresses of the day including Norma Sheer, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford. It was also adapted and updated in 2008, but we’ll pretend that never happened.
Anyone who’s tread the boards of the Spotlighters stage or sat in the audience can see right off the challenges it presents being an intimate space as well as in the round, but Alan Zemla’s Set Design is spot on for this production. Practically each scene is a different setting and the use of set pieces is the most effective and innovative way to present each scene. Zemla’s attention to detail is impeccable and the pieces used in this production are befitting and does not hinder the story whatsoever but moves it along nicely. The scene changes could move a bit faster, with some going as long as 2 to 3 minutes long (a century in production time), but the 4-person stage crew does a stupendous job moving the large, but absolutely appropriate set pieces on and off stage cautiously in the small space. Kudos to Alan Zemla for a job well done.
The wardrobe for this piece is a beast but Costume Design by Andrew Malone, Amy Weimer, and Darcy Elliot is on point. Every stitch these ladies wear is appropriate, to period, and authentic. Set in the days of art deco, the gowns provided to these actresses are superb and all of the actresses look comfortable in what they are wearing. Most of the ensemble members seem to have at least 3 costumes a piece, so I can only imagine the hours this Costume Design team put into this production, but it paid off. They were able to present the glamour these society ladies exuded as well as the conservatism of the 1930s through casual wear and business attire. Overall, Malone, Weimer, and Elliott knocked it out of the ballpark with their design and added great value to this production.
Baltimore theatre veteran and Spotlighters Theatre Managing Artistic Director Fuzz Roark takes the helm as Director of this piece and for a man directing all these ladies, he does an outstanding job. Aside from the long scene changes, Roark keeps the action moving along and though the piece runs almost 3 hours, it’s not because of any dragging on the stage, it’s just a lot of show, that Roark has managed to present at a good pace and with authenticity. His casting is impeccable and, above all, his vision is clear, and he seems to have a strong comprehension of the material and the era in which this piece is set allowing him to present an impressive production that is a joy to watch.
There are definitely some actresses who are stronger than others and there is a wide range of ability on the stage. However, all the members of this ensemble work well together and off of each other having a tremendous chemistry. Within this abundant cast, there were quite a few highlights.
Ilene Chalmers is charming and motherly as Mrs. Morehead, the conservative, wise mother of poor Mary Haines and though her role doesn’t require as much stage time as others, she gives a strong performance and delivers her lines confidently. Another “supporting” role is that of Jane, the loyal maid, played by Christina Holmes. Holmes gives an outstanding performance adding an Irish accent that is near flawless and she makes this character her own and one to watch.
Nancy Blake, the witty, single and brassy author and world traveler of the group of ladies this story follows is played by Andrea Bush and she is on point with this character. She has a definite command of the stage and digs her teeth into this character, giving her a rough-around-the-edges persona that actually makes her very likable. This character doesn’t mince her words and Bush embraces this giving a very enjoyable, humorous performance.
Kellie Podsednik tackles the role of Crystal Allen, the other woman who frankly doesn’t give a damn and knows how to play the game of infidelity and social climbing. From the moment she stepped on stage, I wanted to scratch this woman’s eyes out so, with that said, Podsednik played this role superbly. She had just enough smugness and confidence that one has to almost respect her even though she is a homewrecker. Crystal Allen is a high-toned woman, but Podsednik may have taken her vocalization or accent a bit too far, almost sounding straight up British, but other than that minor detail, her performance is realistic and outstanding.
The role of Mary Haines, or Mrs. Stephen Haines, a gentle, level-headed socialite housewife and the character around whom this story mainly revolves is tackled by Michele Guyton who brings a certain grace and dignity to this character. Her choices work very well for this character and she gives a balanced and confident performance and, at times, seems to glide effortlessly across the stage adding to her brilliant performance.
A certain highlight of this piece is Suzanne Young who takes on the role of Countess de Lage, the very rich, care-free, love lorn lady who has been married several times. Young is an absolute hoot in this role summoning up belly laughs from the audience nearly every time she’s on stage. She understands the comedy and her timing is just about perfect. She plays off the other actresses beautifully and delivers her lines naturally and boldy. I’m lookig forward to seeing more from this extremely talented actress.
Melanie Bishop portrays Sylvia Fowler, the sharp-tongued, gossipy, friend you love to hate and she plays it with gusto making her bona fide standout in this production. Having last seen Bishop in Spotlighters production of The Game’s Afoot playing a similar character in a similar time, she couldn’t have been cast better. She understands this type of character in and out and brings an authenticity that is second to none. I’d love to see her play another type of character because her acting chops are on point, but I thoroughly enjoy watching her play this type of role. Bishop’s comprehension, her comfort on the stage, and her strong stage presence makes for a superior execution of this nasty, loud-mouthed character.
Final thought… The Women at Spotlighters Theatre is a witty, brash, and honest play taking the point of view of women of the 1930s and though socially outdated, with certain ideas of how men and women should behave in relationships (namely marriage), it is still a piece ahead of its time. It portrays strong women and gives a humorous, true, and intelligent insight into their ideas of men. Spotlighters Theatre’s production is well thought-out, entertaining production with an more than able ensemble of strong actresses that should be added to your list of shows to see this season.
This is what I thought of Spotlighters Theatre‘s production of The Women… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
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