The Women is a comedy of manners—mostly bad manners. Set in the high-society world of 1936 New York, this riotous romp spotlights gossipy social climbers, their cheating husbands and a floozy mistress.What makes this play so enjoyable to watch is not only the quick wit and the delicious dirt-dishing of playwright Clare Boothe Luce, but also an interesting glimpse into the archaic politics of marriage and divorce. Written in the 1930s, it shows us a world where women lose status and power without marriage and where decisions about philandering husbands are made more from the wallet than the heart.
The Women are a group of gabby “ladies who lunch,” busy being busybodies. Many scenes are played out in society settings: playing cards, getting manicures, ordering designer dresses and eventually visiting a Reno divorce hotel.
Mary is the naive wife, the last to know about her cheating spouse. Everyone else knows, and soon these catty chatterers give up the secret. Mary’s mother tries to get her daughter to turn a blind eye, but unsolicited advice from soured wives spells doom. The play’s second half plays out in Reno, the only place you could get a no-fault divorce at the time, and eventually fast-tracks two years into the future to show us the assorted comeuppances.
City Theatre’s production revels in the cartoonish exaggeration of these women, their simplistic world and the fast patter of their tattering tongues. Eleven actresses portray 40 different characters, and it’s clear they are having a ball depicting bitchy broads and spurned spouses. In particular, Cheantell Munn, Katherine Pappa, Martha Omiyo Kight and Georganne Wallace shine in their various roles.
The production is dressed up in handsome period costumes, sets and music. Though the Lazy Susan revolving set is clever, it becomes problematic when it doesn’t glide as smoothly as it should. There are times you want to send one of those bodacious broads over to give the stuck stage a swift kick into action.