The 1939 movie version of Clare Boothe Luce's The Women is a rite of passage for many gay men ( and some lesbians ) .
The catty, cutthroat society women and their rapid-fire dialogue have become ingrained into gay culture. Last year, at the time of the sixtieth anniversary of the film's release, I was lucky enough to see a flawless production of the play at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. It was the first time I'd ever seen The Women on stage, and the play is slightly different from the movie version.
Under the direction of William Buster, the storefront Headstrong Theater company has revived their own revival of The Women. Buster makes efficient use of the small and terribly intimate space, converting it from the Haines's living room to an exclusive beauty salon to a dressmaker's shop to an exercise room to a hospital room, just to name a few of the settings. Most of the all-female cast inhabits Luce's characters perfectly, wearing them like vintage fashions. A couple of the actresses turn in exceptional performances, making this production well-worth seeing.
In case you are unfamiliar with the story, Stephen Haines, the husband of Mary Haines ( Kerry Smith ) has been stepping out on her with a trampy perfume counter shop girl named Crystal Allen ( Julie Granata ) . Most of Mary's vicious circle of friends already know, but Sylvia Fowler ( Elizabeth Wallace ) , the biggest bitch in the group, knowingly sends Mary to Olga ( Christine Rosencrans ) , a manicurist at an exclusive salon who dispenses nail-polish ( Jungle Red ) and gossip with equal aplomb.
After Mary's Park Avenue home and marriage crumble, she heads to Reno, Nevada to get "Reno-vated." Of course, nothing ever goes as planned, in love or war, and there are laughs and tears, and there is the triumph of twisted sisterhood.
As Mary, Ms. Smith has a touch of classic old Hollywood style and oomph and we feel for both her loss and her newfound strength. Ms. Wallace made me momentarily forget Rosalind Russell's penultimate portrayal of Sylvia, by making her too goofy to dislike. Ms. Granata's Crystal is a ravenous man-eater and Angela Bullard's larger-than-life Countess DeLage is a source of delight.
It is, however, the performances of three actresses in multiple roles that made the biggest impression. Julie Partyka's snooty Sales Girl almost made me feel sorry for Crystal when she put her through her paces, and her compassionate performance as showgirl/husband-stealer Miriam Aarons finally made the character make sense to me.
Becky Brown's portrayal of Euro-model Princess Tamara, the Haines's gossip-hungry cook Maggie, and divorce ranch operator Lucy were distinctive enough to make me want to check the program each time to see which actress was portraying the characters.
Finally, while Ms. Rosencrans's portrayal of the malicious manicurist Olga snapped like a nail clipper, it was her performance as the Irish maid Jane that allowed her to really shine. Whether on the verge of tears over the divorce of her employers or recounting an argument she overheard, Rosencrans's Jane was a real woman among "The Women."
"A-" At the Headstrong Theater, ( 773 ) 989-7037, through July 16.
by rick reed
The Chicago premiere of playwright Luis Valdez' Zoot Suit on the Goodman mainstage marks the first appearance of Latino theatre at this renowned location. Valdez based his story on the very real Los Angeles Sleepy Lagoon murder case that took place in 1942, but Valdez, one of the most respected Latino playwrights in the world today, uses the case as a springboard for so much more. At once an examination of Chicano Zoot Suit culture of the 1940s, prejudice, the role of the media in the U.S. judicial system and a look at Latino family culture of the period, Zoot Suit provides more to consider in its two hour or so running time than a whole season of plays at many other venues.
Zoot Suit masterfully synthesizes fact and fiction. The framework of the play revolves around a real murder that occurred in 1942 L.A. and the rounding up of a group of young Chicanos from a local barrio based on circumstantial evidence.
The resulting mass trial takes up a major portion of the play and the audience becomes a makeshift jury, witnessing the extreme prejudice of the judge, who sets up a roadblock for every legitimate defense motion. But playwright Valdez has added his own brand of imagination to the proceedings. For example, the play has a narrator called El Pachuco, who acts as the coolest of Greek choruses, while at the same time reflecting the attitudes of Zoot Suit machismo. Marco Rodriguez, as El Pachuco, is a revelation: conspiring with the audience and the play's characters, Rodriguez masterfully combines charm, pathos, and humor to create a portrait that is, paradoxically, both realistic and mystical.
Although the play certainly has its socio-political message, there is enormous entertainment value here. Christopher Acebo's scenic design incorporates newspapers from the period as both backdrops and props that speak symbolically and elegantly of the role the media played in the time period as well as the specific events portrayed. The music and choreography ( composed by Lalo Guerrero and choreographed by Randy Duncan ) are enough to satisfy any lover of musical theater. Successfully combining swing and Latin, the show's musical numbers are intoxicating.
This is probably the final mainstage production at the "old" Goodman. Treat yourself to a show that truly has it all. Highly recommended.
Runs through July 30; ( 312 ) 443-3800.