A review of the department of theatre arts’ production, “The Women.”
A woman’s manicure does not remain unblemished forever––with time, an accidental chip or a broken nail will lure her back into the salon to get her nails redone.
In Clare Boothe Luce’s “The Women,” Mary Haines finds that she needs to return to her manicurist before finally spreading her claws after years of hiding her hands under the table from her fellow gold-digging, designer-label wearing, cut-throat acquaintances on the upper East Side, who, like her, find themselves at the arms of monumentally rich men.
Nanci Ruby, director of APU’s production of “The Women” and professor of Acting and Directing for Television at Chapman University, brought the 1936 Broadway hit to the Black Box Theatre this month. The play elucidates what Cynthia Nixon had to say about the production’s characters back when she played Mrs. Haines in the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of the play in 2001.
“[They] are like infants, psychologically and emotionally. They’re so out of touch with what they want,” Nixon told The New York Times in 2002.
With the play’s return to the stage so many years later, one can’t help but wonder what has been sieved through since the 1930s and what has remained as germane as the snitching tendencies of the production’s traditional all female cast, or Luce’s exploration of what exactly was the role of a woman in the societal context of 1936.
With the intimacy of the black box theatre, the audience was able to indulge into the heroines’ guilty pleasures, and experience the juicy wickedness of their relationships with men as if they were unfolding in virtual reality. However, Mrs. Haines’ compassion amidst a sea of superficial faces remained the focal point of Ruby’s depiction of a romantic rivalry for male attention.
Mrs. Haines, played by senior acting major Hannah Sulak, is the only female to remain poised throughout her divorce from Mr. Haines after she discovers that he has been having an affair with a saleswoman at Saks’ perfume counter. The rest of New York City seems to flare up in a frenzy of gossip resemblant to that of a beehive losing their queen bee.
The lead actress retains a warm aura of tenderness around her, even when she begins to have doubts about her separation from Mr. Haines. The other women, however, turn to a masculine display of physical aggression to settle their differences while on vacation in Reno.
Jill Brennan-Lincoln, artistic director of APU’s production and chair of the Theater Arts Department, said the women in the play all talk like men except for Mrs. Haines.
Yet it seems that the play’s fast pace catches up even with her. In one moment, Mrs. Haines’ 11-year-old daughter is asking her mother why she doesn’t do all the exciting things that men do such as fly aeroplanes and go into politics. In another, Mrs. Haines is sitting in the same room two years later, contemplating whether divorcing her husband and taking the path less travelled by was worth the public outcry it caused.
The pace of the production is complemented by the extravagantly decorated gowns that Manhattan’s elite sport while indulging in their daily recreational routine: playing bridge while smoking, drinking, gossiping about each other’s promiscuity and whining about their upper-tier, first world problems, such as what Sylvia’s psychoanalyst has to say about her losing one pound.
Contrastingly, the minimalist stage sets and simplistic props made the women’s tight curls and powder-caked faces radiate against the set’s white walls and the scenic designer’s play on color. In the final scene, Mrs. Haines basks in a purple-tinted limelight of success in her scheme to win back her ex-husband’s affection.
The plain set does more than just dramatize the sedated, feline manner in which Mrs. Haines removes her gloves in the finale to reveal her jungle red claws to Sylvia Fowler. The slight pause before the deliverance of her final line, and the spotlight in she finds herself in, allows the audience to comprehend how Mrs. Haines’ character has transformed over the course of the production.
“Mary loves her husband, and I think what she learned from those ladies is that the only way to handle her marital problems was to fight back,” said Brennan-Lincoln.
When her red nails glimmer in Sylvia Fowler’s direction, it becomes evident that Mary Haines learned not only how to talk like a man, but dig her claws in their skin a little deeper like one as well.