McLean High School
Have you heard? Stephen Haines is having an affair, Edith Potter's husband flirts with all her friends, and Mr. Howard Fowler is not everything his wife wants him to be. Dominated by gossip, chitchat, and hearsay, Justice High School's honest, genuine production of "The Women," was simply a delight to watch, according to anyone who knows anything.
Written by Clare Boothe Luce, an author politician, and US Ambassador, the all-female play "The Women" was somewhat of a novelty for its time. The show first premiered in 1936, and has been revived and adapted into multiple movies and television shows since then. "The Women" is set New York City as jazz and Hollywood are on the rise, but the play also discusses the not-so-glamorous topics of the oppression of women and social stratification.
Our story centers around an upper-crust posse of women as they prattle on about everything involving men. But once a gossipy manicurist accidentally discloses Mr. Haines's affair to Mrs. Haines, their silver-platter lives are rocked by messy marriages, sudden scandals, and disastrous divorces. Each ends up Reno-vating their lives in Nevada, finding themselves transformed by idle gossip.
Whether perpetually pregnant, an underappreciated writer, a tattling chatterbox, or simply a good wife, every actress crafted her own distinct persona as a member of Mary's bridge table club. Together, they possessed especially compelling dynamics in group scenes. Equipped with individualized historical accents, Justice's cast handled lengthy dialogue-based scenes admirably, and maintained energy in comedic scenes, such as an unsuccessful exercise class and several catfights.
Natalie Baumeister brought an impressive level of emotional maturity to her performance as the wife-turned-divorcée Mary Haines. Upon learning of her husband's affair, her content disposition shifted to resentment, heartache, cynicism, and finally to confidence, all of which Baumeister performed with remarkable dexterity. It was a pleasure to watch her develop Mary's touching character arc.
Naomi Bertha had no reservations in her wildly entertaining performance as the back-talking, catty friend Sylvia. Her honeyed tone veiled biting insults, and when those didn't suffice, Bertha was committed to biting in real life, kicking and screaming during multiple catfights. Naomi Bertha was extremely engaging in multiple scenes, convincing the audience of her powerful comedic ability.
Polishing off the cliché role of a young, blonde, seductress was Tess Wadson, who made the character Crystal Allen stand out from the crowd. It was crystal clear that Wadson knew how to wield her sultry voice and charming mannerisms to capitalize on her signature charisma and allure.
Adding humor during tense moments were characters such as Nancy Blake (Leilani Curran), who landed sarcastic one-liners, Lucy (Tracy Albarracin), whose off-key ballad was simply charming, and the Countess Flora (Andrea Pedemonte), who remained a consistent source of comical pomp and over-the-top physicality.
The splendid technical work at Justice High School enhanced the actors' performances greatly. A capable crew of butlers orchestrated the versatile set and props during numerous scene changes, and their tomfoolery elicited many chuckles as they primed the stage for the next scene. Although sound crew encountered difficulties at times, the successful use of several microphones and various sound effects was commendable. A top-notch costume crew managed to match various characters' temperaments and deftly maneuvered multiple quick-changes, even featuring a semi-realistic "bathtub dress" that filled the tub to the brim with blue tulle.
Warning against the dangers of gossip and vanity, Justice High School's production of "The Women" was amusing and empowering, leaving the women (and men) of the audience with a sense of fulfillment.
McLean High School
In a whirlwind of gossip, deception, and high-society intrigue, Justice High School's "The Women" is a heartfelt comedy, designed to celebrate femininity in the Depression era. Taking on pregnancies, divorces, affairs, and cat-fights, the talented cast of larger-than-life ladies proved that though men may have the power, it's the women who rule the world.
The first female Congresswoman to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Clare Boothe Luce based "The Women" loosely around her experiences as a socialite in New York City. Featuring caricatures of urban wealth in an all-female cast, the 1936 play examines the toxic culture hiding just behind the seemingly charmed lives of the Manhattan upper crust. We begin as Mary Haines, a sensible mother of two, discovers that her husband of eight years has been having an affair. As Mary deals with her disintegrating marriage and backstabbing group of girlfriends, rumors spiral out of control, resulting in over-the-top antics that must be seen to be believed.
At the center of the action was Natalie Baumeister as Mary, whose genuine maturity and optimistic demeanor set her apart from the elitist society. Her well-developed relationship with her daughter, played by the delightfully sassy Sara Kaufman, and her burgeoning friendship with the above-it-all Miriam (Bella Lanoue-Chapman) showcased her meaningful connection with the other actors.
A vindictive foil to Mary's kindness, Naomi Bertha as Sylvia, delivered the most hilarious moments of the night. Talking at a breakneck pace, her subtle maneuvering and not-so-subtle insults were raucously entertaining as she chatted nonstop to an increasingly frustrated exercise instructor (Zoe Greer). From the radical feminist Nancy (Leilani Curran), to the perpetually pregnant realist Edith (Susie Herz), to the sultry and carefree Crystal (Tess Wadson), each woman played her various ages well and sported a dialect accurate to her class background. Particularly remarkable were Bertha's transatlantic elocution, en vogue among the upper class of the early twentieth century, and Wadson's husky drawl, reminiscent of Depression-era icon Mae West.
Creative set changes were executed by an ensemble of eager butlers, clad in bow-ties and tuxedos. Musically accompanied by pieces like Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and, interestingly, "Hava Nagila", the group of butlers performed slapstick bits between scenes, including a cleaning battle (with feather dusters as the weapon of choice) and the investigation of a murder. A lighthearted addendum to dramatic moments of the play, the all-male group of butlers paid tribute to silent-era films, efficiently and inventively introducing each new scene.
The costumes of "The Women" introduced character traits and provided context for the societal background of the story. As a newly independent Mary is introduced in Act II, she wears a power pantsuit, symbolizing that she now, literally "wears the pants" in her life and relationships. Though there were some mishaps with microphone cues, the actors never broke character and continued the action well.
What does it mean to be a woman? For each of these cosmopolitan socialites, femininity has a different definition. Justice High School's production of "The Women" brings the comedy of the past into the present, providing a glimpse into an elite world that few know and even fewer understand.