Susanna Wilson, Anne Allgood, Julie Briskman and Emily Cedergreen are just a few of The Women
Photo by Chris Bennion
It was an adventure to get down to Seattle to see The Women at the ACT Theatre and I had no idea what to expect. I did not recall seeing any shows directed by Warner Shook, had actually never seen a performance at the ACT Theatre, and had never heard of the playwright. I hoped that going into this play knowing almost nothing about it would be a good thing. I did a little research, reading the summary online, and got the vague impression of a witty piece about the role of women in the 1930s. The play itself does center on that theme but there is much more to it than just high society gossips.
The Women is about a few East Egg married women who get together to lunch and gossip about the absentees. Each woman has her own life, filled with new love, scandal, children, work, and (sometimes) contentedness. This story centers on Mary Haines, played by Suzanne Bouchard, who loves the life that she has with her husband of twelve years. One luncheon, however, Mrs. Haines’ good friend Sylvia Fowler, played by Julie Briskman, has some interesting news to tell. Someone has heard tales that Mr. Haines was out with a common shop girl. As a true friend of Mrs. Haines, Mrs. Fowler cannot bring herself to admit the story that she has heard…so she has her oblivious new manicurist tell the tale.
Before the show, the audience was treated to some wonderful recordings of 1930s jazz, soft familiar favorites that put one in the mood for talking. The show itself does not have much music in it but the music afterward is just terrific. It has a completely different style than the beginning of the play, which helps to accent the growth of the characters and also makes for a good transition back to the present day.
The story is complex and the performance reminds the audience of that in every detail, from the lighting to the costumes. The lighting compliments both the personalities of the characters and the feelings of each scene. The entrances and exits are phenomenal. The director, Warner Shook, overlaps each scene so that set changes serve a greater purpose than just to change the furniture. By allowing the audience to see her just waiting in her coat outside or lounging in a bathtub, the scene changes give an extra glimpse into the character of each woman. Each scene always has a little flair to accent a detail, such as an amber-colored light to highlight some animal trophies or an actor lit from below.
Lighting Designer M.L. Geiger was able to light them so well in part because of the extensive use of a hydraulic lift on the stage. It helps to move big portions of the set on and off the stage quickly. The set is minimalist but definitely has everything that it needs. All of the furniture has the ability to move on and off the stage quickly. The set is a stylized but semi-modern portrayal of things in the 1930s. The colors are bright and brash but have a nice older feeling to them too, which is a really good way to hook a modern audience while keeping the time-period straight. This is also done through the costuming. The styles of all the dresses and outfits are definitely from the depression era, but each reflects the character that wears them. They have bright patterned colors that stand out and help to create the world, and sizes and styles that would look good even now.
Now, to the performance itself. I feel that all of the actors are fantastic in this piece and really do the fullest with their extreme characters. Almost all of the actors are well cast, especially those within the ensemble. They really work as a team to give the audience the feeling of high society, even those who change characters. On opening night, the only actor that I felt needed to play more with the team was Megan Schutzler, the young actor who portrays Little Mary. She didn’t seem to have a cohesive understanding of the child character. Every time she spoke, it seemed like she was delivering one-liners instead of a whole personality. It disappointed me because the casting was almost perfect other than that.
The show works together well, with each aspect complimenting the same theme and same setting. The ensemble members have the same amount of character development as the main characters and are just as well dressed. This really helps to make the world come to life because everyone lives in the same idea. Each person and detail helps to further the theme of each scene and make it come alive. Everything flows together nicely, from blocking to the automated set. Though the lobby does not contain any displays for the show, this only helped to add to the intrigue beforehand. The lobby allows one to know the setting and the theme but not any details so that everything is new and crisp during the performance.
This performance was a wonderful introduction to the ACT and I had a lovely time there. The placing of the theatre was a little confusing because I did not realize that they had multiple stages in the same building. With the help of the staff, it was easy to navigate the area. They were all very welcoming and informative if one ever had a question. The audience was mostly older people so I got the impression that it may not have been their first time seeing this show. They still seemed to enjoy all of the witty remarks, but there was one joke which only a few others and I had the pleasure of indulging, something about Wagner and a dress.
The Women is a wonderful play, very smart, with many layers of understanding. One could take it at first as just a satire of the women of the time but the themes are more powerful than that. It contains the idea that fancy may change but real love with last forever if one fights for it. It gives a humorous key to a serious story, but lets both sides have equal time to flourish. It shows the wit and intelligence of the writer but allows slapstick to parallel with the complex wit. It would be a great introduction into theatre for someone who has the interest to pay attention and would be perfect for teenage female audiences. It just ropes the audience in with fast lines, scandalous situations, and chains of smoke.
October 11th, 2007
Note: ACT recommends this play for people who are high school age and up. For more information on content, please contact ACT directly.
Through December 2nd
More information and show times: www.acttheatre.org
ACT's Ticket Office: 206-292-7676
Ticket office hours: Tuesday - Sunday noon - show time
ACT Theatre is located at 7th & Union in downtown Seattle. It is served by a whole bunch of buses. For bus routes and schedules, visit tripplanner.metrokc.gov
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