By Hazel Ellis; Directed by Jenn Thompson
Produced by the Mint Theater Company
Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 3.26.16
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street
by Sarah Moore on 2.29.16
Kellie Overbey, Emily Walton and Mary Bacon in Women Without Men. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: The Mint Theater Company introduces Hazel Ellis to New York in the American premiere of her excellent play Women Without Men.
Irish playwright Hazel Ellis’ 1932 play is currently having its American premiere, and Women Without Men certainly feels like it deserves to be added to our theatrical canon. Set in the 1930s at an Irish private boarding school for girls, the story concerns the seven teachers at the school and how their personalities clash. The story is surprisingly fresh and modern, considering that this is the play's first production in 77 years.
Women Without Men is focused on new teacher Jean Wade (an absolutely lovely and believable Emily Walton), who comes to Malyn Park Private School straight from university. Jean struggles to find her place in the clique of teachers, who all have individual and distinct personalities, not to mention being set in their routines. Miss Wade enters the school excited and idealistic, before quickly getting her dreams shot down by the other teachers, who are more hardened and experienced. Not only are the portrayals of women realistic and diverse, the dialogue and the way they interact with each other is surprisingly modern and funny. They warn her not to try to be friends with the girls, but the students quickly fall in love with Miss Wade and send her flowers.
Hazel Ellis crafted complicated relationships between these women, showing both conflicts between them in their social group, and their inner existential conflicts about what they should do with their lives. Miss Connor (played with appropriate severity by Kellie Overbey) is the other history teacher, who quickly turns against Wade after first trying to bond with her over history lesson plans. Miss Ridgeway (Kate Middleton) is upset that there is a new young teacher in the group, so she’s no longer the one receiving flowers. Miss Ridgeway also rooms with Miss Willoughby (Aedin Moloney), and their opposite personalities do not attract.
Conflict arises over the Shakespeare scene Miss Wade is preparing for her elocution students, and one of the students insults another teacher behind their back. Should the women show loyalty to their students, or to their fellow teachers? That question is the overriding theme for many of the smaller conflicts within the play.
Swiftly and smartly directed by Jenn Thompson, Women Without Men moves quickly and never lags, which is always a risk when taking on a rarely produced play. Thompson understands Ellis’ script and has crafted a more than worthy production to showcase her writing, as well as the distinct talents of the cast. The play is a great showcase, both comedically and dramatically, for all of the actresses, including Mary Bacon as Marjorie Strong, Dee Pelletier as Mademoiselle Varnier, Joyce Cohen as Mrs. Newcome, and Amelia White as Matron. The casting, by Judy Bowman, is uniformly excellent.
Vicki R. Davis's single set is the teacher’s sitting room, filled with a variety of chairs surrounding a small fireplace and walls of books. Davis nails the purposely old-fashioned style of the room that the women speak about. The costumes, period-perfect and gorgeous, are by Martha Hally.
The Mint Theater Company is known for their mission of mounting little-known plays from the past, and with Women Without Men, they’ve provided the New York theater community with an exciting discovery to Hazel Ellis’ work. This play is definitely worth a visit for anyone concerned with gender parity in theater, and specifically with the work of an excellent “lost” female playwright. Come for the play, stay for the great production.
(Women Without Men plays at New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, through March 26, 2016. The running time is two hours and fifteen minutes, with an intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2:30, with a special matinee on Wednesday March 23rd at 2:30. Tickets are $27.50 through $65 and are available at nycitycenter.org or by calling 212-581-1212. For more information visit minttheater.org.)
Women Without Men is by Hazel Ellis. Directed by Jenn Thompson. Set Design is by Vicki R. Davis. Lighting Design is by Traci Klainer Polimeni. Costumes are by Martha Hally. Sound Design is Jane Shaw. Stage Manager is Kathy Snyder.
The cast is Mary Bacon, Joyce Cohen, Shannon Harrington, Kate Middleton, Aedin Moloney, Alexa Shae Niziak, Kellie Overbey, Dee Pelletier, Beatrice Tulchin, Emily Walton, Amelia White.