Strong cast lifts Theatre Macon's 'The Women'
By R. Andrew Strickland
(Originally published in the Macon Telegraph, May 16, 2006.)
The true story of Clare Boothe Luce reads like the most unbelievable fiction. Her incredible life included work as a journalist, politician, diplomat and member of high society.
With such a fascinating life to draw from, it is no wonder that her play "The Women" is based on people and situations she knew well. In this case, those people are the New York high-society women with whom she mingled for most of her life.
The play, an unflattering look at how society women deal with marriage and divorce, is running in a new production at Theatre Macon. Although well-directed and full of strong acting performances, "The Women" is not always an easy play to watch.
The plot centers on Mary Haines and her journey through a very public society divorce. This painful occasion is made worse by Mary's society friends, who seem to delight in her discomfiture even as they claim to help.
Martha Reynolds plays Mary quite well, giving her a sense of nobility in her suffering. As one of the few truly likeable characters in "The Women," it is vital that Mary captures the sympathy of the audience. Reynolds strongly accomplishes this feat with a performance that traces the ever-changing emotional life of Mary with wonderful clarity.
At heart, "The Women" is a piece that requires many fine performances from its all-women cast. Paula Day Johns, Brettlin Spangler, September Carter, Shelley Kuhen, Lynnette Poupard, Becky Yeatman and Martha Malone breathe life into Mary's assortment of society friends and enemies (often one and the same.) JoAnn Green and Mary Katherine Kersey also provide nice moments as Mary's mother and daughter. Especially enjoyable is the work of the ensemble actresses who each create several characters.
The set consists of architectural arches and platforms backed by panels of diaphanous pastel fabric. While quite attractive, the unit set is hard to accept for some of the more diverse locales of the play. Kuhen's costuming is nothing short of exquisite - a parade of period fashion, color and detail.
Also beautiful is the staging by director Jim Crisp. "The Women" is a masterful demonstration of how well movement can support the storytelling of a play. Slightly less successful is the show's pacing. The first few scenes, containing vital characterization and exposition, fly by in breathless fashion. Luckily, the cast finds a comfortable pace in the middle of the first act, and the clarity of the show is immediately improved.
The program notes on the play suggest that Clare Boothe Luce wrote about the rich for the rich. This is apparent in Theatre Macon's production. Though humorous in parts, the constant scheming and misery of the society ladies can be rather uncomfortable to watch for the average audience member. Even Mary's journey ends in a way that will not leave modern audiences entirely pleased. However, these are quibbles more about the script than the performance. Crisp and his cast have created a strong ensemble performance that is well worth watching despite the vagaries of the script.