Friday, May 21, 2010

(No.93) Raquel Welch & Clare Boothe Luce

When sex symbol Raquel Welch was running around in a fur bikini in Hammer Films' 1960s remake of One Million Years BC the American writer, editor, playwright, politician and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce was still adding lustre to her career. She died in 1987 at age 84. Welch is still around. At age 70 she looked terrific when she appeared recently on the Craig Ferguson chat show.

These two women will be forever linked in my memory because of a television interview I watched involving both of them. In it (as I remember) Luce interviewed Welch who said scarcely anything worth hearing but Luce was nonetheless the soul of graciousness. She did not eviscerate Welch with the sort of one liners she put into the mouths of her female characters in her 1936 play The Women now in previews at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The play had an initial Broadway run of more than 650 performances and has been revived periodically, notably in the 1970s and the 1990s. George Cukor directed The Women as a Hollywood movie in 1939. If it sounds peculiar to say that the play was regarded as immoral in some quarters, think about what the U.S. was like more than 3/4 of a century ago. Today the play has even been likened to the popular American television series Desperate Housewives. Not really an apt comparison. The play is far more literate and sophisticated than any primetime soap opera.

The Women has been dismissed by some critics as a play about backstabbing 'ladies who lunch', women of the sort Luce knew and with whom she socialized in New York. In fact, for an American play of the 1930s it makes some pointed social commentary on class and wealth but does it in what is mainly a funny social satire. Its all female cast portray New York City society women who toss off acerbic and witty comments.

The play revolves around the revelation that the husband of the central character, Mary Haines, is having an affair. Alisa Palmer, the director of the Shaw production, has recognized the appeal of an approach to The Women true to the spirit with which Luce endowed it in the 1930s. It combines clever dialogue with an over-the-top acting style for some of its characters, a style for which they are made to order. Notable among these are Deborah Hay as the acerbic Syliva Fowler, Jenny L. Wright as the always pregnant Edith Potter and especially Wendy Thatcher as the Countess de Lage.

Jenny Young in the Haines lead role is very good and a couple of supporting performances were gems: Sherry Flett as Mrs. Morehead, Mary Haines' mother and Kelli Fox as writer/observer Nancy Blake.

It is pleasant these days to be able to attend plays that are not revivals of Broadway musicals or musical 'tribute' shows (imitations), productions dependent in part for audience interest and enthusiasm on their dialogue. The Women by Clare Boothe Luce fits the bill.

As with our attendance at two other Shaw productions this season ( Harvey and The Ideal Husband; see the review in column No.87 on Pat and I enjoyed this production of The Women and recommend it.


"The Women" will run in Shaw's Festival Theatre (one of four venues the Shaw uses) through Oct 9 in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Dates of performances and other details plus online ticket purchase can be accessed at


Alastair Rickard