Regional Reviews: Seattle
ACT Pulls out all the Stops for The Women
Luce's tale concerns the virtuous and kind-hearted Mrs. Mary Haines, a virtual babe in the woods compared to various female shark acquaintances like constantly chattering gadfly Sylvia Fowler and home-wrecking femme fatale Crystal Allen. Mary's marriage ends up in divorce after she learns (thanks to her "friend" Sylvia) that the latest home Crystal is wrecking is Mary's own. After a stay in Reno awaiting the divorce, Mary returns to Manhattan to learn that Crystal, now the new Mrs. Haines, is cheating on her ex - now, with a singing cowboy. Finally provoked into showing her own claws, Mary takes the necessary steps to win back her ex.
The 1939 film version which is still widely viewed even now, featured Norma Shearer as Mary, a brilliantly hilarious Rosalind Russell as Sylvia, and no less than Joan Crawford as Crystal, heading up the starriest cast of females in Hollywood history. Director Shook has managed to corral the Seattle equivalent of that ensemble, and his always sure way with actors really pays off in this production. Suzanne Bouchard, often cast as a shrew or vixen, scores a delightful change of pace here as Mary, the actress' natural strength undercutting the smarmier aspects of this almost saintly character. Julie Briskman out-Russell's Roz in a hilarious, high octane portrayal of the snaky Sylvia, ands Jennifer Lyon, in a total about face from her dumb but adorable Billie Dawn in ACT's Born Yesterday a few seasons back, makes her Crystal an ice-cold, ladder climbing gold-digger, the perfect contrast to Bouchard's Mary.
Other standouts in the wholly admirable company are Anne Allgood, hilarious as the terminally pregnant Edith Potter, Susanna Wilson as Mary's most sage and trustworthy friend Nancy Blake, Suzy Hunt's adorably overblown Countess DeLage, and a rare and welcome return to Seattle by veteran actress (and former Intiman artistic director) Elizabeth Huddle as Mary's simpatico Mother. Young Megan Schutzler as Little Mary has a great time with her big scene telling off her new, wicked stepmother Crystal. Veteran comic actress Laura Kenny is alternately stuffy or boisterous as needed in several roles, with Sadie the Reno cook especially fun to watch, and Annette Toutonghi (whose vocal style eerily mimics Carol Kane) excels in her comic character cameos as well, notably Olga the manicurist who inadvertently blabs to Mary about her husband's infidelity.
Matthew Smucker's scenic design is opulent and handsome, and probably features more set changes than any show ever housed in ACT's Allen Theatre. Crystal's ostentatious bathroom, complete with soaking tub is the cherry on this scenic sundae, and Mary Louise Geiger's lighting design is equally impressive. David Zinn's impressive and always eye-catching costume design does well by all the ladies, and don't miss the final bows for a knockout of a costume change that encompasses the whole ensemble. Special applause to Michael Roth for his de-lovely and oh so apropos Cole Porter musical arrangements and his original music as well.
With lesser talents in the director's chair or in the cast The Women would be a slog through valley of the vixens, while in this production, what can I say but "Here's to the ladies who lunch."
The Women runs through December 2 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle. For further information visit www.acttheatre.org.
- David Edward Hughes