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'THE WOMEN' KEEPS THINGS NICE AND LUCE.

Byline: Julio Martinez Correspondent

CLARE BOOTH LUCE is perhaps best-known for her trendsetting years as an editor of Vanity Fair and her turn as a U.S. Congresswoman. But in 1935, she blazed onto the Broadway scene with ``The Women,'' an all-female comedy/drama that laid bare the jaundiced lives of some monumentally shallow Manhattan ladies. It was the quintessential theatrical cat fight.

It ran for two years and was made into a hit film in 1939. Emphatically rooted in its time, the play now exudes more camp than reality. However, its latest incarnation at the Hudson Avenue Theatre is certainly entertaining, due to the totally committed performances of a 21-member ensemble, under the intuitive staging of Steven Benson.

Despite the tacky, underwhelming modular setting designed by Matthew Scarpino, the society ladies who surround good-hearted Manhattanite Mary Haines (Aimee Guichard) manage to exude the style-over-substance glamour of pampered women who all have too much time on their hands. They are aided immensely by the evocative, period-perfect costuming of Shon LeBlanc.

Only one of the main characters, the independent Nancy Blake (Dale Dickey), has a job. She's the author of feminist-themed novels. The others are mired in rounds of gossiping, card playing and other day-filling activities that have only one basic objective. They are each positioning themselves to be survivors in the struggle to win and/or hold onto a successful man who will continue to underwrite their idle lives.

Benson successfully delineates the winners and losers in this battle of the haves and the want-to-haves. The central warfare is waged by gentle Mary Haines against the barracuda-like tenacity of gold-digging shop girl Crystal Allen (Hilary Hesse). Guichard's Mary impressively segues from sophisticated civility to anguished neediness to self-confident victor. Hesse is perfect as the nubile, street-smart Crystal, who knows exactly how to use her assets to get what she wants.

The rest of the players in this exercise in catty gamesmanship acquit themselves admirably. Sarah Fairfax is delightfully evil as gossip-monger Sarah Fowler. The aforementioned Dickey provides some much-needed intellectual sanity as razor-tongued Blake. Instilling additional comic relief into the proceedings are dimwitted, always pregnant Edith Potter and the flamboyantly frivolous Countess De Lage, portrayed to the satirical hilt by Rebecca O'Brien and Wendy Worthington, respectively. Carol Katay is effective as Mary's life-wizened mother, Mrs. Fowler.

Also deserving mention is 8-year-old Miranda Lopez as Haines' daughter Little Mary, who offers an emotion-tugging first-act closing prayer in which she asks that her mother and father not break up.

THE WOMEN - Three stars

Where: Hudson Avenue Theatre, 1110 N. Hudson Ave., Hollywood.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; through Sept. 27.

Tickets: $20. Call (323) 769-5858

In a nutshell: The play may be dated, but the performances instill veracity into Clare Booth Luce's glimpse into the jaundiced lives of some monumentally shallow Manhattan ladies.
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Title Annotation:Review; U
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 12, 2003
Words:477
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