SHAW FESTIVAL - "THE WOMEN"
"A woman's best production is a little money of her own."
Clare Boothe Luce
Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing The Shaw Festival's adaptation of "The Women," a play written by Clare Boothe Luce. What an absolutely enjoyable fun fest and yet, it was also quite thought provoking. It's not often that I walk out of a play or even a movie where I feel compelled to search for the answers of the questions that the script posed.
The costumes were exquisite. I felt like I was watching a runway show with all the changes from daywear to nightwear to formal. The scenery and props took you back to the 1930's and seeing the action change from a home to a fitness center, to a beauty parlor, to a hospital room, to a club and end in Reno was quite a visual treat.
The story is a campy satire highlighting the cutthroat competition between a group of Park Avenue society ladies and the working women of Manhattan. No matter the class or race of a either social class, the most lucrative and secure jobs available to women of that time was that of being a "wife." It was a matter of economics.
The story centers around Mary Haines, the one woman in the play that seems to have the perfect marriage until her "friends" find out that her husband Stephen is having an affair with Crystal Allen, a perfume shop girl at Saks. Mary's mother counsels her daughter to let the affair run it's course but then the sordid details are revealed to a gossip columnist. Mary is forced to then divorce her husband and the "friends" maliciously relish the demise of Mary's perfect marriage.
She seemed so untouchable.
Four of the women end up in Reno for a quick divorce so that they can move on to the task of finding a new man to marry and take care of them. Even Mary, in the end, goes back to Stephen when he finds out that Crystal has been unfaithful to him. And yet, we see that same behavior today when strong successful women take back their philandering husbands where money
is not an issue.
Does Hilary Clinton ring a bell?
There were times, as Luce wanted, during the play that I felt very uncomfortable with the pettiness of the women's gossiping and the lack of support for their female friends. I understand that not so long ago, women didn't have the means to take care of themselves and their children without a husband. The acquisition of a successful man and the care and feeding of him was how women protected their livelihood. Another woman, even a good friend, was a threat. Is it all that different than a man in an organization clawing his way to the top, and doing what was necessary to reach the executive offices? They too were protecting their livelihood at whatever costs. Is money the equilizer?
In the Diane English ("Murphy Brown" producer) movie version of The Women, Mary leaves her husband, spends the time considering her life and with the financial support of her Mother, opens a fashion atelier that has been her lifelong dream and is soon on the road to success. The philandering husband sees an exciting and independent woman emerge in his ex-wife and of course, immediately wants her back. She lets him come home under certain conditions and as they say, "the beat goes on."
Now here's my idea. Grab a group of great girl friends and come to Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Our town offers wonderful accommodations, excellent restaurants, beautiful wineries and fun local events, but you must take the time to include a Shaw Festival play or two. I highly recommend "The Women". I promise you that the play will offer endless discussions of women's roles and their relationships with men, their friends and with themselves. The Shaw describes "The Women" as a campy middle-aged coming-of-age satire. After you have seen "The Women," then the perfect followup play would be to see Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband."
Round out your girls' weekend by stopping by my studio in Niagara on the Lake
meeting "the women" of Priscilla Mae.
All photos property of The Shaw Festival
Thank you to Odette Yazbeck & Jenniffer Anand