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Onstage: The Women

By Tom McElfresh · December 9th, 2008 · CityBeat Recommends
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Manhattan women of wealth but no particular purpose: Stephen Sondheim called them “the ladies who lunch” and saluted their hardihood as “dinosaurs surviving the crunch.” Actress/author/ambassador Clare Boothe Luce called them simply The Women and said she wrote her acid-tongued 1936 comedy to get the scabrous bunch of them out of her mind. When the play began its two-year Broadway run, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson referred to “the withering malice of New York’s unregenerate worldlings” and confided that he didn’t like them.

Liking them as women with whom you’d lunch is immaterial.

Being entertained by them as vain, vapid ego-monstrosities is sweet easy when an in-period production is as splendidly dressed (Gretchen Vaughn), as elegantly set (Ronald A. Shaw) and as clickety-swift and mostly sharp-focused as staged by Mark Hardy at Northern Kentucky University.

Luce was both actress and socialite, married to Life magazine owner-publisher Henry Luce. She knew her New York women and pictured them without pity, cawing and clawing and forever pawing each other’s husbands. Servants, clerks, beauticians and such are treated more sympathetically. One wife, Mary Haines (Hannah Dowdy), contrasts the others sharply; she treats friends with humane affection. She’s warmly rewarded while the others get exactly what they deserve.

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