Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

The Women - Jungle Red Nails Gleam at Shaw

Deborah Hay
The Women - Deborah Hay

At Shaw this season, we first learn from Oscar Wilde that there is no such thing as an "ideal husband." Later, on the same Festival Stage, we discover in Clare Boothe Luce 's The Women, a 1930s Broadway hit, that there is no such thing as an ideal marriage, at least for female Manhattan socialites who devote their ample amount of leisure time between bridge games to extra-marital scheming and defaming their married "friends."

Jenny Young (Mary Haines) discovers, courtesy of mouthy, amusing manicurist, Lisa Codrington (Olga) that after twelve blissful years, her husband is cheating on her with a cunning "blonde floozy" sales clerk from Sak's, Moya O'Connell (Crystal Allen) and her girlfriends in this time of need are no help at all. In fact, it's strictly survival of the fittest as these women fight to maintain their status while plotting to leave, steal or win back their own husbands. Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell calls it "A play that takes place in women's boudoirs, salons, bubble baths and powder rooms - information for the men in the audience, confirmation for the women and a true celebration of the extraordinary actresses in our company."

Nineteen women appear on stage as the curtain opens, posing in clichéd feminine roles; and remarkably, after the many deadly "cat fights," the same number remains at the end for their well-deserved applause. The caricatures are as exaggerated as the incredible Hirschfield art on display in the Donald & Elaine Triggs Production Centre next door to the Theatre.

Kelli Fox   Kevin Lamotte   Moya OConnell   Wendy Thatcher   William Schmuck

Deborah Hay, after her brilliance in last season's Born Yesterday, continues to dazzle as Sylvia Fowler, a compulsive, amoral gossip intent on getting the goods on her friends. She is hilarious in scene after scene and her exercise routine, flopping her legs about like a fish pulled from water, mechanically smoking a cigarette while an exercise machine rubs away at her tummy and her "walking up the wall" are worthy of Lucille Ball in her prime.

Jenny L. Wright plays Edith, perpetually pregnant ("Are you Catholic or just careless?" asks Mary.) Her hospital scene blowing tobacco smoke on her newborn and whisking ash off its nose is hilarious as she ruefully complains about her prime mission in life.

Wendy Thatcher is the crusty Countess de Lage who practises serial marriage and has her husbands followed by detectives. At a ranch in Reno she milks the cowboy theme complete with leather boots and appropriate ki-yi-yippee-yi-o song. Her tight-fitting outfits reveal a lady who knows what primarily interests men.

Moya O'Connell follows up her diabolical blackmail role in Ideal Husband as Crystal who deliberately uses her charms to steal Mary's husband. In a pivotal scene in an up-scale department store dressing room, the two collide and Mary begins to understand the meaning and necessity of "jungle red nails," the operative theme throughout the play.

Kelly Fox is Nancy, the virgin sharp-tongued writer, content to remain a "frozen asset," a vacuum "that nature abhors." Sharry Flett plays Mrs. Morehead who rushes to daughter Mary in her time of need and counsels her not to make a fuss about her husband's infidelity. Nicola Correia-Damude plays a feisty Miriam who merrily steals the "impotent" Mr. Fowler from Sylvia and delights in her victory.

William Schmuck works wonders with the sets, aided by Kevin Lamotte's effective lighting and Lesley Barber's music which keeps the action rolling. We are treated to women trying on dresses and undergarments in dual dressing rooms, a beauty shop inhabited by gossipy hair stylists, manicurists and pedicurists, a bubble bath scene featuring the exotic Crystal centre stage and a suitably tacky Reno ranch where the women venture for quickie divorces.

In her "Director's Notes" inside the informative program, Alisa Palmer explains that The Women "was created by a talented writer who by the age of 30 had been editor of both Vogue and Vanity Fair." Luce "wickedly exposes the indolence of the wealthy who had been shielded from the worst effects of the Depression, but places them squarely in the midst of the class tensions of the time...While the working women in the play participate in skewering the Park Avenue Ladies, all the characters, despite their political diversity are keenly aware that, regardless of class or race, one of the most lucrative and secure jobs available to a woman at that time, if she played her cards right, was that of wife."

The Women allows Jackie Maxwell to display her powerful Shaw female cast and they are up to the task. For two hours of merriment, plan to take it in.

The Women plays to Oct. 9 in the Festival Theatre. Phone: 905-468-2172; web site:

Jenny L. Wright
Jenny L. Wright

The Women (1939): Witty Lines

The Women - Introduction

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