“A Woman’s Place”

photo courtesy of John Lamb

Play:        “A Woman’s Place”

Group:        West End Players Guild

Venue:        Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue at Enright

Dates:        November 12, 13, 14

Tickets:    $18; contact 314-367-0025 or www.westendplayers.org

Story:    In four short one-acts, a quartet of playwrights depicts “ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances,” according to the program description.  In Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles,” a sheriff and two local men circa 1916 investigate the apparent murder of a farmer.  It appears that he was killed by his wife, but what was her motive?  While the men look for clues to the crime, the wives of the two assistants put together pieces to the puzzle that are dismissed by the menfolk matter-of-factly,  much like they treat their women.

    Two women meet for drinks in David Mamet’s “Australia,” discussing the recent killings of a wife and children by a deranged husband.  One of the ladies knew the assailant, and thinks she may have suspected him of such awful possibilities.  Or did she?  William Saroyan’s “Hello, Out There” tells the tale of a stranger accused of raping a local townswoman.  The sheriff and deputies have left him alone in a cell, where he is visited by the timid girl who cleans the office and who is smitten by the curious prisoner.  Is he guilty or not?  And will she listen to his entreaties to spring him from jail and leave town with him?

    “Ashes to Ashes” is Harold Pinter’s dissection of the troubled relationship between Devlin and his wife Rebecca.  He’s determined to learn the details of her affair with a former lover, when it happened, what was involved and what were the consequences.  Rebecca seems to speak in a reverie, never really sure what is real and what is imagined in her recollections.

Highlights:    Directors Renee Sevier-Monsey and Carrie Phinney have whipped together a tasty little soufflé that ranges from inconsequential to intriguing in its ingredients.  They save the best piece, Pinter’s shrewd study, for the finale, leaving the audience savoring the delicious final course.  Sean Ruprecht-Belt is engaging as Devlin, relishing his role as interrogator of his mysterious wife, maintaining a cool composure while occasionally revealing a dangerous streak of jealousy and rage.  As Rebecca, Nancy Lubowitz strikes a fine balance between dominated spouse and rebellious lover, whether in fantasy or reality.

Other Info:    The other notable work is “Trifles,” with Lubowitz and Susan Elaine Rasch conveying two pleasant but ignored farmers’ wives whose thoughtful approach to their neighbor’s predicament reveals key elements behind her crime that the thick-witted men in their midst totally miss.  Anthony Wininger plays the self-impressed sheriff, with Chuck Lavazzi and Ruprecht-Belt as the simple-minded farmers.

    “Australia” is more a theatrical exercise, barely running five minutes in length for its self-described ‘scene.’  In that short period, however, Rasch and Elissa Schrader deliver plenty of laughs as they debate the apparently deranged behavior of a man one of them would have dated, if she had liked him.  The evening’s dullard is “Hello, Out There,” a story as drab and dreary as the tiny cell that imprisons the suspected rapist.  Saroyan’s dialogue is too precious to carry much weight, and it isn’t helped by Wininger’s uncertain interpretation, although Schrader accounts for herself nicely as the mousy cleaner.  Lavazzi has a small part that fails to help the situation.

    Sevier-Monsey’s set design is a double-tiered effort that features a tidy and tiny farm kitchen on the upper level for “Trifles” and a barebones set on the lower level for the other three skits, where a table, some chairs and Anthony Anselmo’s illustrative lighting (particularly impressive with the barred cell in ‘Hello, Out There’) achieve a satisfactory effect.  Russ Bettlach’s costumes are convincing in each of the stories, from drab farmhouse attire to chic cosmo garb, and Leonerd Marshall’s sound design fits the various plots.

    “A Woman’s Place” is harmless enough entertainment with a pair of interesting works bracketing lesser efforts, all performed in two quick hours.

Rating:    A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.