It is great for a play to have clever lines. But they still need to be delivered.
Case in point, unfortunately, is “The Women,” which opened Sunday at Theatre Baton Rouge after winter weather canceled its Friday performance. Claire Boothe Luce’s look at 1930s upper-middle-class New York City women has its share of witty observations on men and marriage. Too often, this production lacks actresses who make those lines sparkle. Kurt Hauschild directs.
The story revolves around Mary Haines (played by Allyson Guay), a 30-something wife with two children whose husband, Stephen, has the family financially well off, but is often absent, purportedly because of work. Her social circle includes the gossipy Sylvia (Carole Moore); the younger, more innocent, middle-class Peggy (Courtney McKay Murphy), who longs for children and the financial security of her friends; Nancy (Bianca Siplin), a writer who is single, unemotional and blunt; Edith (Jordan Parrish), a housewife pregnant with her fourth child; the Countess DeLage (Chrissy Bienvenu), a hopeless romantic despite multiple divorces; and Miriam Aarons (Bridgette Burhoe).
They are friends, to the extent that their jealousies allow The tenuous nature of their friendship becomes apparent when Sylvia lets slip that her manicurist revealed Mary’s husband is having an affair with Crystal Allen (Haley Schroeck), a sexy shop girl. Mary choose to follow the advice of her mother (Crystal Brown) and does not confront her husband in hopes it will blow over. But Sylvia’s big mouth creates enough embarrassment that Mary goes to Reno for a quickie divorce.
Luce’s script betrays a cynical eye toward the evolving attitudes regarding sex and marriage in the ’30s, and an abundance of witticisms. Many of them, however, were lost in the blasé manner in which the actresses spoke them.
Perhaps the intended effect was that these women were just so witty that verbal gems dropped off their tongues with no effort. But that is not how most people speak, and it’s certainly not how most audiences listen.
People who get off a slick line know it. You can see it in their smirk, the twinkle of the eye, the pause for effect. Those could help a theater audience enjoy them.
To some degree, one can blame the play itself for the lack of energy. There are no men in the cast, and this is taken to a ludicrous degree: When Mary is forced to explain the impending divorce to her children, she speaks only to her daughter (Kennedy Lane Ross), a distracting oddity. Everything the audience learns about the husbands comes through conversation. While the play focuses on how the women interact with each other, it means much of what happens is told, not shown. The tension that could come from direct confrontation is missing.
There are some creditable performances. As Sylvia, Moore couldn’t be cattier without coughing up a hairball; Schroeck makes a great villainess, and Nancy Litton adds some humorous moments.
in various minor roles, and the 9-year-old Ross handled herself well.