The Women | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Women 

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The Women, Headstrong Productions, Ltd., at American Theater Company. When Headstrong staged this play in 2000, its cramped storefront space made for a rather staid interpretation of Clare Boothe Luce's 1937 classic. But the expansive American Theater Company quarters allow abundant room to wield Dior gowns undergirded by ten-yard crinolines and to engage in a jolly catfight (choreographed by Anne Foldeak). Overall this production's intense physicality renders The Women almost a whole new play.

As conceived by director-designer William T. Buster, Luce's exploration of female schadenfreude is as much fashion show as dramatic presentation: 14 actresses sport a total of 70 vintage ensembles (Buster has changed the setting to the late 1940s). But the sartorial spectacle never eclipses the playwright's renunciation of an artificial society and championship of her sisters--young and old, rich and poor--in their endeavors to follow their bliss, however many broken marriages may litter the road to fulfillment.

On opening night the troupe was still adapting to the space's canyonlike acoustics. But their portrayals--28 in all--of womankind paint a rich and varied panorama of sexual politics and intragender warfare. Bookended by Carol Stein's wise dowager and Alison Peters's impressionable youngster, the cast is uniformly appealing, though the six-foot-two Karen Yates steals every one of her scenes as the stubbornly romantic Countess de Lage.

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