As you may know, I now sit on the Board of Directors of Walterdale Theatre as Co-Director of Publicity. Up next at Walterdale Theatre is The Women by Clare Boothe Luce playing February 7 – 17. I interviewed Director Catherine Wenschlag about the play and, to try to remove any bias, I’ve transcribed my interview in a question & answer format below.
From Walterdale’s website: In an era when a woman’s happiness was considered to be her husband and children, Clare Boothe Luce delivers a comedy/drama that proves that women aren’t always the sum of their parts. Mary Haines, a happy and wealthy socialite is content to live in her bubble of affluence and privilege. That bubble threatens to be popped when Sylvia Fowler, Mary’s best friend, discovers scandalous news about Mary’s husband. Who will emerge unscathed?
Why did you submit The Women to be part of Walterdale’s season?
The primary reason was it fit my goal of having a show with a large female cast and told a story I was interested in telling.
What is that story?
It’s a story about how women can make choices that you might not agree with but they are still valid choices for them. When I first read the play, a lot of the characters did things that I didn’t agree with and I wanted them to do something different and I was angry with them and then I came to a place of realizing, ‘No, that’s like real life. Our friends don’t always make the choices we think they should.’
Why was it important to have a show with a big cast of women on Walterdale’s stage?
At Walterdale, we see a lot more women come out to audition than we do men, and the last few seasons have had shows that were completely men, so I wanted to find a play with women’s stories, but that served a big cast with a broad range of ages. The Women has are 17 people, 39 characters and 67 costume changes!
How do you describe what happens in The Women?
We have a protagonist who is quite happy in her life and who is content to be a wife and a mother and have a social circle of friends and early on in the play, through the deviousness of our antagonist she comes to find out that her husband is being unfaithful. The story is what happens after she finds out.
When I’ve been helping you with this show, we’ve talked a lot about how The Women demonstrates that women can be each other’s best friends and worst enemies. Let’s dig into what that means in the context of this show and your production choices.
There is more drama onstage in any play when people are enemies more than when they’re friends. It’s more interesting to watch. So, I would say that the ‘best friends’ part is demonstrated backstage, in the dressing rooms and outside of rehearsal by the women in the cast, and the ‘worst enemies’ part is playing a bigger role when they’re on stage. Even people who are your friends can do things that can hurt.
Were there other themes that you wanted to focus on with The Women?
I was really lucky to have Leland Stelk as the set designer, so I knew whatever stage I was on, I would have a fabulous playground. I didn’t have to think about that at all. Costumes, I had an idea where I wanted it to go and found designer Mandy Mattson who embraced that idea and run with it. A lot of the things that are constantly on my mind are not the things I had to worry about too much because we made a decision early and we stuck with it. The number one thing was casting. Knowing that by the time I started auditions, 77 women had signed up to audition and 66 showed up, but of those 66, I had to choose 17. It was tough!
You mentioned you made some staging decisions early on in the process. I’ve seen how beautiful the set is, but is there anything you want to hint at in the preview?
Leland, in his journey of how to design it, has progressed it from an early 1930s timing to making it timeless and showing that the story can happen in any era. He settled on a modern cubist design as his template and we have set pieces that are all angular and we have a paint job with curved lines and it creates the dichotomy that women can be both. They can be soft and gentle and they can also be hard and strong. Or, they can be soft and strong or hard and brittle. I think that’s a big part of what he gave us, is a visual representation of the diversity of what women can be.
You mentioned you decided to do a timeless adaptation of the show, versus sticking it firmly in the 1930s – why did you want to make that choice?
I didn’t want people to see this story and say, ‘that’s what women used to be like’. I want them to look at it and realize that this is what women are like right now. This is what my friends are like, this is what I’m like. Even the things you don’t like are legitimately happening right now. Visually, the main way we’ve done that is to have each character in a costume that is inspired by a different decade. They’re not literal period pieces, but they’re inspired by the clothing of the era. You’ll see someone with a flowy 1920’s movie star outfit and you’ll see another character who is a modern feminist who wears a “nasty woman” t-shirt. And every decade in-between – the ’80s are well-represented!
The cast is from a wide array of life-stages, which I think is very unique about the show. Can we talk about the variety of actors we’ll see on stage in the show?
We have people who range in age from 17 – 75, we have people who have never dated to people who have been married for 40 years. We have people who it’s their very first play, we have people who have been acting for decades. We have students, working people, stay-at-home moms, and retired people. It’s all working – everyone has found at least one person they feel close to in the cast, and many of them have found more than one. I purposely aimed to have a wide range of women’s experience.
Was there anything else you wanted to mention?
Come for the laughter, stay for the analysis!
The Women by Clare Booth Luce plays at Walterdale Theatre February 7 – 17. Tickets are $20 – $22 through Tix on the Square.
There are also a number of special events during the run of The Women:
- Tuesday, February 6 is a free preview for students with a valid ID
- Wednesday, February 7 is opening night, with a reception to follow the performance
- Thursday, February 8 tickets are 2-for-1 at the door
- Friday, February 9 is The Women’s Night Out, including amazing door prizes and drink specials
- Tuesday, February 13 is pay-what-you-can tickets at the door for Galentine’s Day
- Wednesday, February 14 has a talk-back with members of the cast and crew after the show