Clare Booth Luce's The Women is thought of first as an expose of female competition among a pack of well-groomed wildcats who claw until they draw blood, and then out-do each other commiserating. Less remembered is Luce's curious stance against emotional feminism, as betrayed wife and mother Mary (Vanessa Waters) comes to believe that the cause of her divorce wasn't that cheap tramp, Crystal Allen (Stephanie O'Neill), but her own pride. Fempowerment, not femme fatales, wrecks homes. "Love has pride in nothing but its own humility," writes Luce invoking Khalil Gibran, and so the challenge of mounting her play is in scaling its icy peaks and humble lows. Elise Robertson's staging stays in the middle ranges. The 15-woman ensemble is fine; the costumes by O'Neill and Rachel Kanouse are great, as are Robertson's sets. But both the cruelty and the heartbreak are mannered, not meaty. And unlike George Cukor's triumphant film version, the maids, manicurists, and career girls nearly steal the show from under the society dames, though as the fatuous breeder Edith Potter, Emma Messenger is a vicious riot as she flicks her cigarette ashes over her newborn son.
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