Though a significant hit in 1911, William C. deMille's political thriller The Woman was lost and just recently unearthed by The Metropolitan Playhouse. Their fiery new production of the show proves that it is every bit as relevant and gripping today as it must have been 90 years ago.
The political story The Woman tells may seem quite famililar. A group of representatives (Baz Snider, Ken Bolden, and Leo Bertelsen) and the governor of New York (Tod Mason) devise a plan to discredit representative Matthew Standish (Russell Hamilton), an outspoken opponent of a piece of legislation they want passed. This results, as it does in many political dramas, in a fair amount of confrontation, bargaining, half truths, and double dealing. But there are two things that truly set The Woman apart.
The first is its focus not on how people are created by politics, but on how people themselves create politics. The relationships between the men and women in the play, all of varying degrees of power or powerlessness at different times, is what truly forms the backbone of The Woman and, we are led to believe, the way our government works.
The second is the play's perspective on its characters. Each has his or hear voice heard, but the play doesn't allow the audience the luxury of perceiving one character as "right" or "wrong." A number of times during the play, just when you believe you understand the players, the tables will be turned, forcing you to look at everyone anew. This is one play where no one is innocent, the heroes and villains are almost always one and the same.
The play was adapted from deMille's original by David Zarko, who also directed the production. Zarko creates some vivid stage pictures and can easily point up minor moments as events of great importance; at times, the play is truly gripping. He has also used the theater's configuration to his considerable advantage. The audience is on three sides of the action, with the actors occasionally so close, the tension seems to seep into the seats; whether the weather outside, the heat never gets turned down.
Zarko's work, though, is not perfect. Assisted greatly by Brian Jones's beautiful set and Fritz Masten's period costumes, Zarko's adaptation of the text never really suggests 1911. In addition, the staging, especially in the second act, can obscure certain performers at important moments. The addition of musical numbers (written by Clay Zambo) at the start of each act and the end of the show contributes little to the proceedings.
Though Annette Previti as the governor's wife and Kristin Stewart as a powerful political telephone operator turn in consistently good performances, the rest of the cast is more of a mixed bag. Mason and Hamilton seem less at home in the first act than the second, when their characters truly come into their own. Bertelsen and the actor playing his character's son, David Heckel, seem to have little real connection, though each does fine otherwise. The other actors, fine in their smaller roles, succeed primarily at contributing to the taut mood.
There is no way to know what caused The Woman to be forgotten for so many years, but rest assured that the production at the Metropolitan Playhouse is sufficiently memorable in its own right. Whatever the degree with which you follow politics, The Woman may keep you from being able to look at the people who make it happen quite the same way again.
The Metropolitan Playhouse