The Women, The Women, Oh how I love The Women!

The Butterfield 8 Theatre Company is growing significantly in imagination, depth and diversity with each and every production, especially now that they seem to have found a favorable space for their productions in Concord. I’ve known Jon Butterfield for many years, as an actor, a director and as a dance company and dramatic theatrical company producer. Typical of many immerging community theater companies, they are constantly high on hope, hard work, hand-me-down sets and home sewn costumes. Typical of smaller theatre companies struggling on the way up, the money tree is not showering them with a very fruitful harvest. The work they are doing and the enjoyment they deliver is certainly one of the most understated gems in Contra Costa County. Typical of the many little “Black Box” theatre companies that line the alley-ways in San Francisco and New York, they are often blessed with real talent, but constantly discouraged as they continue battling for bucks. Such is the story behind this week’s review of their current production of Clare Boothe Luce’s cleverly written 1936 play, “The Women”.
(photo by Judy Potter)

The George Cukor movie version in 1939 was a huge success starring Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard and 131 other women. That’s right, all women, and no male actors! The play was also very successful and in my way of thinking, better than the movie in that the action (if played and directed well) is right in the same room with you. In fact, while I appreciated the great acting talents of the many fine actresses in the movie, my sense is that some of the movie actresses were chosen more for their name value, more so than they fit the characters, as they were characterized in the play. This local production is really quite excellent and impressive, especially as far as community or regional theater goes.

Director Alan Cameron has scoured the theatrical countryside for some truly remarkable women and has delivered a truly exciting, funny and thought-provoking production, well worth a little drive to down-town Concord. This is a very well conceived and superbly directed evening of highly entertaining theatre! The company has done very well providing workable sets and home-grown costumes that fit the period and story line pretty darn well. Great job, Alan!

The story evolves in and around a group of Manhattan upper social strata women, with both time and plenty of money on their hands in the mid 1930’s. At the same time, the story articulates well the pain and insecurity of a group of working class women who are at the opposite end of the financial and social spectrum, women who are many times and in many ways the service providers for the haughty women described in the first group. The story paints with a broad brush a full spectrum of female characters. Some members of the group are painted to be incendiary, insensitive cheating wives and hurtful gossips, and in another group of characters, trustworthy, loving and perhaps even considerate, to a fault.

Mrs. Stephen (Mary) Haines (played to perfection by Tami Kerr), is a happily married woman in her 12th year of marriage. Her husband can do no wrong, even though lately his work days have become longer and longer, leaving her and her daughter, Little Mary, to cope with life more on their own. Her klatch of bridge playing friends are for the most part, quite financially secure, well provided for through their marriages. Several, including Mrs. Howard Fowler, Sylvia (Kerry Gudjohnsen, played brilliantly as well), are insufferable gossips, eager to wage a war of destructive insinuations and half truths, anything is game, as long as it entertains them. Sylvia is eager to share some inflammatory gossip with the girls in her weekly bridge club gathering, gossip that assures the lady card players that one of their own, Mary Haines, is being cheated on by her husband, Stephen. Anxious to find out if Mary knows or suspects her husband in cheating, Sylvia drops some deadly hints, but to no avail, Sylvia won’t take the bait. Her husband, in her mind, is above reproach. She refuses to question Stephen’s increasingly suspicious lengthy and extended hours at work. Finally, out of purely evil frustration, Sylvia makes an appointment for Mary to go to her beauty salon and more specifically, directing her to see her personal manicurist, Olga, a gal with a careless, poisonous and gossipy tongue.
Sylvia has repeatedly assured Mary that this is the only place in town where one can secure the very popular and daringly dangerous Jungle Red nail polish, and Mary does “admire” the Jungle Red nail polish!

When the fateful day does arrive, Mary goes to the beauty parlor and while having her nails done, is bushwhacked by the venomous gossip, Olga (Melynda Kiring), who, not fully realizing that her customer is in fact Mrs. Haines, unwittingly informs her of her husband’s affair. When asked how she (Olga) is so sure of her facts, Olga explains that Mr. Haines girlfriend, Crystal Allen, is in fact, Olga’s roommate. Olga even adds greater depth to the story by describing the expensive new “digs” her girlfriend has been provided by the bewitched Mr. Haines.

Thus begins the perilous tailspin of distrust, recrimination, shame and jealousy that starts to tear the family apart. Mary’s mother, Mrs. Morehead (played very convincingly by Marcia Hetzler) tries to persuade her daughter that her husband really loves her, but the scandal is making everything more difficult. She talks her daughter into taking a little trip to Bermuda, hoping that while they are out of town, her husband will cool down his caper with Crystal Allen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out quite that way.

Within a couple of months, the two adversaries meet in a fitting room of a very exclusive female apparel emporium, and exchange very heated words and challenges. Mary abruptly concludes her shopping trip and subsequently decides she must now leave he husband. Sylvia, who is the 1930’s equivalent of today’s trashy tabloids, manages to whip the story of the two women’s confrontation into a juicy and salacious front page scandal, blaring out its embarrassing story in the society pages.

A very touching scene ensues when Mary has to tell her daughter that she is leaving for Reno, to begin the divorce process. Little Mary (played by Sophia Ipsen), demonstrates some very real acting talent, a young lady with a lot of promise, with excellent stage presence and great expression.

Mrs. Haines departs for Reno and a Nevada dude ranch where she and other ladies find themselves in similar situations, all awaiting necessary time required to pass for the divorces to be final. To her surprise, she finds a very sweet young lady, and former bridge partner, Peggy (Megan Botts), going reluctantly through the same process, and surprise, surprise, she also discovers her not so dear bridge playing and gossip laden friend, Mrs. Howard Fowler, Sylvia (Kerry Gudjohnsen), is being dumped by her husband as well.

There are many more talented ladies in this cast and I do not have the space to properly provide appropriate kudos, but I do have to congratulate Nancy Sale on her delightfully outrageous portrayal of the bumbling, Countess de Lage, a very wealthy, serial divorcee (she is now concluding her 5th) constantly dumb-struck by love! And, finally, Edith (Maureen-Theresa Williams), who, in this show, is sadly a very poor excuse for a mother, is very funny.

I won’t tell you the delightful turn of events that brings this fun-filled marital-go-round to a “flap”- happy conclusion, but I strongly suggest that it is definitely worth an evening in the Butterfield 8 playhouse located at Cue Productions Live in Concord. Several of the women have not been on stage for some time, having taken a leave of absence and doing other things in their lives. But quite frankly, “it is nice to have them back where they belong”! Try “The Women”, I’m sure you’ll like it! At times the writing is very serious, at times reflective, might even bring back some fond or not so fond memories, but the dialogue is earthy, heartfelt and definitely delightful!The theatre is located at 1835 Colfax Street in down-town Concord (zip code 94520 for those who use Google Maps on the internet), just east of Todos Santos Park. “The Women” continues Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 3 p.m., now through July 5th. Call (925) 798-1300 for reservations or you may go online to, or simply purchase tickets at the door. I will suggest however that you bring a “tush” cushion as the seating is rather basic (folding chairs) which can become very hard by the end of the show. Tickets are only $18 for general admission, and even more important, only $12 for seniors and students, and they are certainly worth it. There is plenty of parking on the downtown streets near the theatre or adjacent to the Todos Santos Park, one block away.