The Women Take Center Stage
Dr. Jeff List
I love when I am inspired by theatre. Performances of all sorts inspire me. Rarely, though, do I find the productions themselves inspiring. The Women at Midland Center For The Arts offers audience members a truly inspiring production. The scope, scale, and composition of the production are what makes The Women so special. The cast is entirely female. The production team is headed at every level by a woman, starting at the top being capably directed by Meagan Eager.
Written in 1936 by Clare Boothe Luce, The Women tells the full story of a dissolving marriage entirely from the point of view from the women involved. Mary believes she lives in a happy marriage. Her friends, most notably the two-faced Sylvia, know the truth. Mary soon learns the truth herself, then lets her pride keep her from fighting for the marriage she desperately wants to preserve. Marriages around her rise and fall until she finally makes the decision to fight for the life she wants.
The strength of the show is in the interplay of the community of women that populate the play. Actors work well off each other to tell a compelling story. Director Meagan Eager’s biggest decision seems to be to keep a period style. The size of the cast and the stylized acting worked against Eager to ultimately provide an uneven performance. Some actors are able to completely embrace the style, while others are less successful. The high marks of the production are very high, but other moments suffer from not keeping the pace, energy, and style.
Megan Applegate as the embattled Mary provides a strong lead for this production. Every step of her character arc is believable. Her denial, resignation, and surrender come through with skill. She presents pride as a major trope of her performance and the production on whole. She brings a strong focal point for the production.
Natalie Slawnyk provides a commanding performance as the so-called friend, Sylvia. Slawnyk brings strength and most capably brings the stylized performance to the stage. She brings the tension and treachery when needed and excels when called on for humor. Sylvia in the gym is a scene that leaves a strong impression. Slawnyk transforms herself to achieve a compelling character better than anyone in this production.
The perpetually pregnant Edith, played effortlessly by Sara Gochenour, brings great pace, energy, and humor in each scene. Even in a primarily comedic role, Gochenour offers Mary pithy advice. Jean Ciampi plays well-travelled writer Nancy with grounded humor without losing style. Her scenes are among the best in the performance. Emma Massey as Olga provides a key plot moment with tremendous humor and clarity. Natalie Lodicobond gives an additional standout performance as Maggie, adding strength in her style and humor.
Meagan Eager & Evan Lewis collaborated on the set. The colorful primo art set set a nice backdrop for the action. The primary acting areas were well utilized. I do question the decision to make the bathroom one-quarter of the primary set given it is used for only one scene. With the gym in limited use on the same side of the stage, much of the action in front of the primary set was tilted toward one side of the stage. The set reveals secondary acting areas after it opens to reveal the casino, ranch, and fitting rooms.
Sound designer L’Oreal Hartwell sets an appropriate mood with the pre-show music in addition to the music throughout the show. I heard feedback and volume issues throughout the show with the stage microphones, but those are limited and do little to diminish the experience of the show. The music still sets the atmosphere for the show. I want to give a special “shout out” to hair and makeup designers Kailey Klingbiel and Sarah Haynes as the hair throughout the show was fabulous and very style- and era-appropriate. Additionally, the costumes designed by the team of Karen Brecht, Karen Harner, Mary Rita Johnson, Terri Robinson, and Kristen Sanborn are fitting with stand-out pieces for Mary, Miriam, Flora, and Little Mary.
The themes and narrative are carried out well, if inconsistently. The acting style fits the era and the production, but is unevenly realized. The show does provide a moment of theatre-making that merits attention and celebration. Overall, I enjoyed the show and you will too.
The Women runs February 15-17 and 22-24. Tickets are available at mcfta.org.