ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s hard to conceive of a more paradoxical figure than Clare Boothe Luce. Married to the powerful publisher Henry Luce, Clare was a prolific writer and well-known conservative. Yet she and her husband had an open sexual relationship and she had many lovers among the rich and famous. She was also friends with New Age guru and LSD promoter Gerald Heard, who introduced the drug to both Clare and her husband.
She is best remembered today for her 1936 hit play “The Women,” currently receiving a stellar production at Adobe Theater under the precise direction of James Cady.
Among the play’s attributes is its large all-women cast. Although there are no actual men in the comedy, they do play a large part in the proceedings, as the women are always talking about them (and one man in particular, Stephen Haines, is central to the plot).
“The Women” is a caustic satire of idle rich women with nothing better to do than gossip and meddle in the lives of others, sowing terrible havoc and destruction. The plot is set in motion when the chief troublemaker, Sylvia Fowler – brilliantly played by Lorri Oliver – sends the one noble woman in the bunch, Mary Haines, to a garrulous manicurist she knows will disclose the extra-marital affair her husband is having.
Luce’s point of view is expressed by Mary’s mother, who cautions her daughter to let her husband have his little affair and not reveal that she is aware of it. After all, she says, in middle life a man needs to have an affair to feel young the way a woman needs to change her hairstyle or redecorate the house.
“The Women” is an episodic play with a great many scene changes, but Cady has ingeniously solved this problem by having the actors dexterously grasp transparent screens while gracefully dancing behind them as the set is being changed, accompanied to very hummable tunes from the 1930s and ’40s. In fact, the show begins with the talented dancer Michelle Eiland doing a riveting solo as the women then join her on stage.
Eiland also plays Jane, Mary’s maid, one of a number of hardworking domestic servants whose presence brings out more clearly the idle futility of the wealthy women.
Eiland is very good, as are Stephanie Jones, Janine O’Neill Loffelmacher, Christy Burbank (as the vicious gold-digging tart Stephen has his affair with), and – in a hilarious performance – Staci Robbins as Countess De Lage. But really, it’s a great ensemble effort by all.
Shannon Scheffler and Katy Jacome’s costume design is spectacular, and I especially loved the red and white outfits the women wore when ostensibly working out with their trainer (Sylvia was more interested in her cigarette as she perfunctorily went through the motions of exercise). They coordinated nicely with Cady’s attractive minimalist set design.
Luce had quite the wit, with zingers like, “keep your chin up, dear, both of them” and “being single isn’t so bad, you can sprawl out in bed like a swastika.” It’s not every day you get the chance to see a witty period piece with 20 actresses playing 40 parts and not a man in sight.
“The Women” is playing through Nov. 3, at Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth NW, Albuquerque. Go to adobetheater.org or call 898-9222 for reservations.