Kathleen McElfresh and Kate Baldwin
in The Women
(© Craig Schwartz)
Kathleen McElfresh and Kate Baldwin
in The Women
(© Craig Schwartz)
Director Darko Tresnjak has mounted an extremely stylish revival of Clare Boothe Luce's 1936 social satire The Women, now at the Old Globe Theater -- so much so that although there are some formidable acting talents on display and Luce's barbs still elicit guffaws, the real stars of the show are Anna R. Oliver's to-die for period costumes. With their myriad of styles, fabrics, and colors, from breathtakingly stunning evening gowns to outrageous hats and lingerie, The Women is a veritable fashion show from start to finish.

If the fashions still elicit oohs and aahs (as well as occasional gasps of disbelief), Luce's cynical social attitudes don't anymore. What was shocking and controversial in 1936 is blasé and old hat in today's tabloid and TMZ-fueled world. Probably the most controversial images are provided by baby factory Edith Potter (Amy Hohn) as she nurses a cigarette as well as her newborn baby, even letting ash fall onto the infant's face. In a later scene, once again pregnant, she's knocking back cocktails like a sailor on 24-hour shore leave.

Fortunately, Kate Baldwin provides a steady and steely balance to the play as Mary Haines, the Park Avenue wife and mother done wrong by the scheming shopgirl Crystal Allen (a shrewish Kathleen McElfresh), who is having an affair with Mary's husband. Dismissing the sage advice of her mother (the always solid Linda Gehringer), Mary falls victim to her friends' backstabbing ways, including chief gossip and troublemaker Sylvia Fowler (an overly cartoonish Heather Ayers), and is soon heading for Reno and a divorce.

Some of the smaller roles are the most pungent. Great support is delivered by Ruth Williamson as the unlucky-in-love multiple divorcee Countess de Lage; Mary-Pat Green shines in a variety of roles including the cornpone Lucy and an Irish cook; while Blair Ross steals quite a few laughs in such roles as Maternity Nurse and One-Eyed Dowager.

Nancy Anderson delivers some wise advice as well as wisecracks as showgirl Miriam, and gets to display her singing prowess at the opening and close of each act. However, the songs, though from the period and somewhat commenting on the action, don't really add much to the proceedings, and having Anderson make her entrance from the audience to the microphone at center stage is also disconcerting.

David P Gordon's silver and black set is Art Deco perfect; a turntable makes for smooth transitions from scene to scene, with drop-in set pieces adding to the show's tasteful look. But the side banquettes make for awkward staging, as do the wide stairs down to the audience. In fact, it's rather distressing to see these fashionable women squatting on the steps in their chic frocks rather than properly sitting in chairs or sofas.