The only men to be seen at the American Airlines Theatre on Nov. 8 — the official opening of the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Clare Booth Luce's not altogether affectionate comic treatise on her sex, The Women — will be in the audience. And they may be feeling a bit queasy, as the spectacle of over a dozen of the fairer sex, baring their fangs and claws and generally laying into their fellow females, unfolds onstage.
The production, directed (ironically) by Mr. Scott Elliott, has shown itself a popular ticket for the Roundabout. Tickets are already scarce (perhaps as a result of the many television appearances the show's stars have made in the last couple weeks), causing the company to extend the run until Dec. 30. Previews began on Oct. 12.
Kristen Johnston stars as Sylvia Fowler, the most cosmopolitan and conniving of the play's many distaff schemers, gossips and cheats. Purportedly a good friend to Mary Haines, the virtuous and suffering wife played by Cynthia Nixon, Sylvia nevertheless talks endless dirt about her pal, who is in danger of losing her husband (never seen) to the cheap and flashy shop girl Crystal. Jennifer Tilly, no stranger to cheap and flashy roles ("Bullets Over Broadway," "Bound"), plays the vulgar counter jumper.
Filling up this melodrama's background are Rue McClanahan as the joyful divorcee Countess De Lage, Amy Ryan as Peggy, Mary Louise Wilson as Mrs. Morehead, Lynne Collins as Miriam, Jennifer Coolidge as Edith and Lisa Emery as Nancy.
The dames will all be draped in costumes by ready-to-wear celebrity, and sometime cabaret artist, Isaac Mizrahi. All the major players are well schooled in the repartee and casual insults that make up the meat of Luce's script. Nixon thrusts and parries in an eternal battle of the sexes as Miranda in the popular cable series,"Sex and the City." McClanahan got off her share of snappy ripostes in television's long-running "The Golden Girls" (a sort of Luce lite for the senior set). Wilson played, in Full Gallop, fashion doyen Diana Vreeland, a woman well acquainted with the Ladies Who Lunch and rarely at a loss for words. And Johnston played an Amazon alien magpie on "Third Rock from the Sun" up until last season.
Director Elliott is founding and artistic director of The New Group Theater Company. His Broadway credits include the Tony Award-nominated Present Laughter and Three Sisters.
The original 1936 Broadway staging ran 657 performances. Rosalind Russell filled the part of Sylvia Fowler in the well known 1939 George Cukor film (which also had Norma Shearer as Mary and Joan Crawford as Crystal, as well as Paulette Goddard). In the play, Sylvia sends innocent Mary to her gossipy manicurist, Olga, knowing Olga will talk about the affair Mary's husband is having. In Reno, for a residency and a quick divorce, Mary communes with other divorcees.
Designers are Mizrahi (costumes), Derek McLane (sets), Brian MacDevitt (lighting) and Douglas J. Cuomo (sound).
Clare Booth (1903-1987) was a playwright, journalist, novelist, first U.S. Congresswoman from Connecticut and Ambassador to Italy. She was born in New York City. In 1935, after a divorce, she married Henry Luce, co founder of Time Magazine and later Life Magazine. In 1941 Clare Boothe Luce agreed to run for political office, filling the seat held by her late stepfather. She won the election and in 1949 was re-elected. At the request of President Eisenhower, she was named Ambassador to Italy in 1946. She was a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. Her life was the basis of the satiric Dawn Powell novel, "A Time to Be Born."