Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

The Women
Clayton Community Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of American Idiot


Gabi Maul, Hannah Corwin, Elizabeth Breed Penny, Erin Struckhoff, Talichia Noah, and Angela Fink
Photo by John Lamb
You can forget all about Mary Haines' mother, counseling her to just forgive her wandering husband—that moment slips by in an instant in a show that puts aside almost every pretense of propriety. Its claws are sharpened to a razor's edge.

Under the character-based direction of Vanessa Roman, Clare Boothe Luce's famous 1936 play is vicious and crazy, though it also seems like a comedy based on the epic story of religion itself—in this case with a lot of women trying to divine the will of unseen men, like gods in their lives. But with Erin Struckhoff as a completely realistic and sympathetic Mary Haines, and Sarah Polizzi as a bracingly driven Crystal Allen, it's also a hell of a lot of fun. There are perfect performances all around, thanks to director Roman and a great team behind the scenes.

Callie West is almost shockingly bitchy (and consistently hilarious) as Sylvia Fowler, while generally remaining within the constraints of 1930s manners—manners which are frequently set aside like a pair of gloves or bothersome earrings. She and Ms. Polizzi are the biggest mullahs in this mysterious Church of Men where all blessings (and curses) come down from the (sex-driven) wills of men. Inevitably, Sylvia and Crystal's "expertise" also makes them the biggest know-it-alls, and the cruelest enforcers.

Ms. Polizzi, as "the other woman" (Joan Crawford in the 1939 movie), is a ball of fire: brazen and brassy, laughing hysterically one minute, and then as ruthless as the love-child of Carol Burnett and Mike Tyson in the next. She's almost like the Wicked Witch of the West on meth, in a brilliantly twisted comic performance.

But because men will (I'm told) say or do almost anything to get what we want, we apparently give off lots of conflicting signals to our quarry. So, for as many different stories as men like to tell, there are just as many denominations of male-worshippers represented on stage here. And each of these women probably has her own entirely unique but well-founded red-letter edition "bible" to legitimize an appropriate feminine response to our clumsy machinations. Though, in fact, most of these women seem pretty agnostic most of the time.

Kay Love is purely authentic as the sadder-but-wiser mother of Mary Haines (Ms. Love was splendid in the younger role herself, about 12 years ago), and Tessa O'Bryan is genuine and heartbreaking as "Little Mary." Indeed, there is so much naturalism on stage, it gives Ms. West and Ms. Polizzi every kind of artistic license to be utterly mad.

Every performance, even of the swan-like models, seems 100% stylish and true, though of course, pretense gives way to prurience every 30-60 seconds. It turns out the role of Miriam Ahrens is perfect for color-blind casting, or at least Talichia Noah makes it so, leading up to that great cat-fight in Reno. And Angela Fink throws "The Method" right into the toilet, giving us a great comic performance as the Countess De Lage, with all her ridiculous stories of past marriages and heartbreaks that she wouldn't trade for all the world. She's unapologetically the "Bubbles DeVere" of the piece.

Gabi Maul is sleek and wise and waspish as Mary's friend the novelist, and eternal trooper Ann Egenriether is genuinely outstanding: both as a retail manager and as a world-weary maternity nurse. Lindsay Morrison-Jahr is terrific as the wisecracking Irish cook, and Lilian Claire Dodenhoff is very nice as the weepy maid. Pamela Geppert gives Marjorie Maine (as Lucy in both the original 1936 play, and the first movie too) a run for her money as the proprietress of a dude ranch in Nevada.

It's not yet "antique theater," but it's got all the stylized trappings of Restoration Comedy—or any other long-gone era—so it's a good thing it can be updated with the kind of insanely modern, comic overtones brought by Ms. Polizzi and Ms. West, and with the perfect race-blind casting of the delightful Ms. Noah.

And though theology isn't how we usually think of The Women, in the end the bitchiest Pharisees are indeed overthrown; and the woman scorned as a martyr is utterly vindicated.

It must be Easter season already.

The sets are fairly minimal, though the costumes are generally as rich as chocolate mousse.

Through March 20, 2016, at the Washington University South Campus theater, 6501 Clayton Rd. (across from the Esquire movie theater). For more information visit www.placeseveryone.org.

Cast
Mary: Erin Struckhoff
Nancy: Gabi Maul
Miriam: Talichia Noah
Sylvia: Callie West
Countess DeLage: Angela Fink
Little Mary: Tessa O'Bryan
Crystal: Sarah Polizzi
Edith: Elizabeth Breed Penny
Peggy: Hannah Corwin
Olga: Jessica La Bozzetta
Exercise Instructor/Model: Milica Guceva
Mrs. Morehead: Kay Love
Lucy/Society Woman: Pamela Geppert
Jane: Lilian Claire Dodenhoff
Mrs. Shapiro/Nurse: Ann Egenriether
Miss Watts: Amanda Vick
Trimmmerback/Society Woman: Ann Hier
Helene/Hairdresser: NoreenAnn Rhodes
Miss Fordyce: Rachel Neuner
Euphie/Sadie: Marilyn Bass-Hayes
Princess Tamara/Cigarette Girl: Chrissie Watkins
Debutante/Hairdresser 2: Emily Schell
Dowager: Mary Klein
Corset Model/Cutie: Jodie Schutt
Society Woman/Salesgirl/Maggie: Lindsay Morrison-Jahr
2nd Saleswoman/Pedicurist: Jazmine Wade
Salesgirl: Suzy Snow
Fitter/Model/Girl In Distress: Payton Gilliam

Crew
Director: Vanessa Roman
Creative Consultant: Amy Ruprecht
Assistant Director/Stage Combat Choreographer: Malia Chiyo Wirtel
Stage Manager: Maureen Highkin
Producer: Nada Vaughn
Set Design: Steve Meyers
Master Carpenter: Mark R. Choquette
Scenic Painting: James Vandike
Props Acquisition: Lily Dodenhoff, Bef Gregory, Sarah Hart
Costumers: Jean Heckmann, Rachel Neuner, Julie Smailys
Costume Assistant: Payton Gillam
Lighting Design: Nathan Schroeder
Electrics Crew: Ben Brink, Ellen Schroeder, Joe Wegescheide
Sound Design: Sam Hack, Ann Hier, Nada Vaughn
Board Operator: Ben Brink
House Manager: Sheri Hogan
Program/Box Office Manager: Ellen Schroeder


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