Listen in as friends look back at old times
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
"A Woman's college! Maddest folly going!
What can girls learn within its walls worth knowing?"
— from "Princess Ida" by Gilbert and Sullivan, 1884
Although nearly a hundred years separate the above lines from Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta and Wendy Wasserstein's first play, "Uncommon Women and Others," not much seems to have changed.
The off-Broadway debut of "Women" in 1977 featured Glenn Close and Swoosie Kurtz and told the story of five graduates of Mount Holyoke College who meet for lunch to go over old times. Six years out of school they gossip, rewind their biological clocks and compare notes on how they've been riding the feminism wave.
While Wasserstein went on to write "The Heidi Chronicles" and "Isn't It Romantic," the 27-year-olds in this play are still trying to chart a course, but haven't yet given up hope.
"When we get to be 30, we're going to be fabulous!"
In one long flashback, they drop back to relive their college years, providing back-story on where they've been and where they have yet to go.
The result is a character comedy/drama, set in a very specific time, place and social class. It works insofar as we come to know and care for these women as individuals.
In this respect, the Readers' Theater version directed by Vanita Rae Smith flounders unnecessarily through its first act. Sylvia Horman-Alper, Eden-Lee Murray and Jo Pruden read two or three parts apiece.
Trying to separate out the voices and the characters creates an unnecessary audience puzzle, especially when a performer is required to play both parts of a conversation.
All seasoned professionals, none of the cast has yet found the key that would bring clarity to the reading's early scenes, where the women's reunion over lunch plays something like a mad tea party.
But things settle down somewhere during the flashbacks, and by Act Two the audience is better able to sort out the characters and their particular life paths.
Richard Pellett adds his voice as narrator and a particularly engaging Mrs. Plumm, a very old school housemother and etiquette professional.
"The college," drones the narrator, "produces women who are persons in their own rights: Uncommon Women who as individuals have the personal dignity that comes with intelligence, competence, flexibility, maturity and a sense of responsibility."
The women, more realistically, are concerned with relationships, comparing penis sizes and what to do after graduation.
"Uncommon Women and Others" isn't a great play, but it does open a door to reveal a highly select group and the actions they take or avoid in setting their own destinies. And we definitely get the message that there may be more to come.
"When we get to be 40, when we get to be 45, we're going to be fabulous!"