'The Women' is just a bit too ambitious for CSN production

In their presentation of Clare Boothe Luce’s play “The Women,” The College of Southern Nevada Department of Fine Arts attempts to paint a colorful picture using a wide stroke, but unfortunately manages only a bare sketch. The ambitious production, featuring an all-female cast of 19 playing 40 roles, with multiple costume and set changes, has great potential. But it seems under-rehearsed and is barely ready for an audience; disappointingly, it falls flat.

A satire about a group of upper-class women in 1936 New York high society, Luce’s comedy of manners portrays the ladies she deplored as catty gossips who measure their worth through the status of their men. Their purpose is to keep their man once they catch him, and they spend idle time protecting their assets against young women who climb the ranks by stealing husbands. They accept their place, and often discuss the caddish behavior of the men, creating a picture of them through words.

Though many consider the play’s misogynistic ideas out-dated, they are actually more resonant now than ever. The obsessions with youth and beauty, wealth, and voyeurism are all a part of our superficial society today, where outward appearances are more valued than inner complexity. This creates the potential for commenting on just how far backwards women’s rights sadly have slid.

While Director Rhonda Carlson acknowledges this in her notes, this possibility doesn’t quite come through. She focuses more on the sleek look of the production, rather than on the complex workings of the written play itself.

The presentation is sometimes sloppy in execution. Cues are dropped and quick timing and pace are off. Characterizations are incomplete, diction unclear, and rapport lacks; many actresses also struggle with their lines. Though the sarcasm of the characters is focused on, Luce’s acerbic wit is not, and opportunities for humor through catty lines are often lost.

A few performances stand out. The most well-rounded character, Mary Haines, is the heart and soul of the play, and Rebecca Reyes gives her an effortless poise. Reyes is beautifully polished, and her Mary displays subtle emotional nuance and a multifaceted personality. She serves to ground the production, and her scenes with young Isabella Baker as daughter Little Mary give resonance; they have a touching chemistry together.

Two who capture humor in their characters are Ginger Lanier as the ever-pregnant Edith Potter and Cynthia M. Dobek as the wise Nancy Blake. They add a lightness to the show. Stephanie Reynolds as the backstabbing Sylvia Fowler is meticulous in her delivery of sarcasm, but overdoes it and is cruel rather than catty; some softening would help with the wit.

Others who do well are Asia Lynn Pitts as home-wrecker Crystal Allen; Cathy Ostertag as the cheeky gold-digger Miriam Aarons; Alysa Grimes as the naïve Peggy Day; and Cassie McGuire as the eccentric Countess de Lage.

The set and lighting design by Eric Koger takes its cue from the “Ziegfeld Follies” movies, spare with stairs upstage set against a backdrop which illuminates an Art Deco design; meant as a blank tableau, against this the rich costumes of Nancy Hardy pop.

The costumes serve to illustrate fashion giving color and texture; they contrast starkly with the icy set and lights to further the idea of the coldness. However, the furniture, white and angular, comes off as anemic; some tapestries for warmth would help delineate space.

CSN’s ambitious presentation of “The Women” gives a stark, unfinished portrait of what could be a very colorful world. Some good performances help to give it heart and a bit of humor, and hopefully it will grow in intensity and complexity through its run.