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The Women

The 1930's were a time when Hollywood distracted Depression-burdened Americans with stories of the rich and famous, and one of those best suited to create a tale of wealth, adventure, and high fashion was Clare Boothe Luce. Journalist, socialite, playwright, congresswoman, ambassador, and wife of magazine magnate Henry Luce (Time, Life, and Fortune), Luce's personal empowerment and fast-lane circle of acquaintances made perfect fodder for her memorable play The Women, now running at the Arvada Center.

Photo of the entire cast of
The entire cast of "The Women"
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
In what has to go down as one of the most talked-about auditions in local theatre history, 240 women auditioned for 30 spots in the ambitious production. And if this wasn't challenging enough for director Rod Lansberry, he and Joseph J. Egan, the scenic and costume designer, had to dress all these lovely actresses and populate them in 12 entirely different sets, all reflecting the haute couture and elegant furnishings of the period. Yet do it they did!

Using a turntable to display one scene while dressing the next, the marvelous fashions and sets follow one after the other, not unlike the 1939 movie starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell. But it is the acting that holds this piece together. Written before television, Luce was able to indulge herself with a story that runs, including intermission, nearly three hours. She takes her time setting up the main plot, and fills it with side trips that elucidate the range of choices and attitudes available to upper-class women, their children, and their servants.

Photo of the bridge game
The bridge game
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
Amidst bridge games, the hairdresser, the dress shop, the health club, tony supper clubs, and lush domestic scenes, the women spar over men, money, marriage, divorce, sex, and fashion. Caught in the cross-fire of all this social climbing and status seeking—where friendship is a superficial expression masking incessant gossiping and husband-stealing—is Mary Haines, a trusting wife and wholesome mother thrown for a loop by her unfaithful husband.

Photo of Penny Dwyer as Mary Haines
Penny Dwyer as Mary Haines
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
Penny Dwyer plays Mary as a pleasant, guileless socialite who gradually learns the ropes from her mother and her ruthless friends, and who is able at the end to take back what is rightfully hers. Dwyer's steady performance anchors the central storyline and gives the piece what little moral sense it has.

Photo of Joan Staples as Sylvia Fowler and Amie MacKenzie
Joan Staples as Sylvia Fowler and
Amie MacKenzie as Crystal Allen
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
One of Mary's best "friends" is Sylvia Fowler, who epitomizes the minute-to-minute ethical relativism so prevalent in these social circles. In this role, once again Joan Staples shows her consummate powers, convincing us of her best intentions even when cutting down her confidants behind their backs.

Photo of the beauty shop
The beauty shop
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
Another of Mary's acquaintances, Countess deLage, goes through men as quickly as her spending sprees, her libido, and Las Vegas quickie divorces can process them. Yet Billie McBride brings such earnestness to the Countess' attempts, we actually sympathize with her plight.


Photo of Amie MacKenzie as Crystal Allen and Penny Dwyer as Mary Haines
Amie MacKenzie as Crystal Allen
and Penny Dwyer as Mary Haines
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
But it is Crystal Allen, Mary's rival for her husband's affection, that finally arouses our heroine's self-preservative instincts. Self-possessed and self-confidant, Amy MacKenzie personifies Crystal as the gold-digger extraordinaire, impervious to anyone, man, woman, or child who may stand in her way.

Photo of Deborah Persoff as Mrs. Morehead and Penny Dwyer as Mary Haines
Deborah Persoff as Mrs. Morehead
and Penny Dwyer as Mary Haines
Photo Credit: P. Switzer
The list of intriguing and compelling performances goes on and on, as it must with such a large and talented cast: Catherine di Bella as the ever-pregnant and cynical Edith; Deborah Persoff as Mary's worldly, caring mother; DaNia Anderson as the daffy, naïve Peggy; Jessica Austgen as Jane, the caring Irish domestic; Susan Dawn Carson in the hardboiled journalist role of Nancy; Ashley Dean as Mary's precocious daughter; and a slew of entertaining cameos by Kate Avallone, Gabriella Cavallero, Pamela Clifton, Susan d'Autrement, Liz Jury, Karen LaMoureaux, Susie Leiser, Patty Mintz Figel, Gia Mora, Leslie O'Carroll, Mercedes Perez, Judy Phelan-Hill, Lucy Roucis, Erica Sarzin-Borillo, Jan Stanfield, Sheila Swanson McIntyre, Melissa Swift-Sawyer, and Edith Weiss.

The Arvada Center's production of The Women is a rare treat, and unlikely ever to be performed again locally with such panache, not to mention that Joan Crawford's dress from the movie is on display in the lobby. It runs through February 22nd. 720-898-7200.

Bob Bows

 

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