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Theatre Review (San Diego): The Women by Claire Boothe Luce at the Old Globe

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With the success of Desperate Housewives and the ceiling-breaking success of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in this year’s political season, it is not surprising that an enterprising director like Darko Tresnjak would decide to revive The Women by Claire Boothe Luce. The play demands a spectacular, large-scale production; it is periodically revived on Broadway with an all-star cast. The Old Globe gathered some leading ladies from Broadway and is putting on a very good show.

The cast for the Old Globe’s production includes Nancy Anderson as Miriam Aarons/Princess Tamara, who at various points in the show sings us a seductive or melancholy song from the standard repertoire of the 30s. The gorgeous Kate Baldwin plays the wronged wife with a sweet and deeply felt sincerity. Ruth Williamson is hot as Countess de Lago, Heather Ayers is a bitchy and delicious Sylvia Fowler, and Kathleen McElfresh is the tramp, Crystal. Others in the cast are Jean Harris, Amy Hohn, Amanda Kramer, Aaryn Kopp, Amanda Naughton, Mary-Pat Green, Aimee Nelson, Blair Ross, and Kayla Solsba.

Part of what makes this stylish production succeed is the set by David Gordon. I did, however, find the fact that the characters sometimes found themselves sitting on the floor a bit awkward, considering they were wearing the beautifully designed costumes of Anna R. Oliver. The perfect period lighting is by Mathew Richards. The production has a musical director, Ron Clovard, who not only did well with the songs that Ms. Anderson sang but also put together the final curtain where everyone sang, and indeed sang well. It was a shimmering conclusion to this witty, glamorous production.

My main criticism is that a few times the characters were allowed to go too far into caricature. What makes The Women so special is that despite the period and class of these gals, they are totally recognizable today, when women still find themselves defined by the male company they keep. It is no wonder this play has had so many revivals and has been the source of several movies. The best of those is still the 1939 version with Rosalind Russell, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Joan Fontaine. A much less successful, updated version was just released this year. If you want to see the real thing, though, live on stage, go see the Old Globe production that plays until Oct 26th.

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