Clare Boothe Luce’s social satire The Women was a smash hit when first performed on Broadway in 1936 and has enjoyed several revival productions during the 1970s and 1990s.
The Women is set in the world of high society wives in New York City during the height of the Great Depression. Mary Haines, the protagonist, learns from a gossipy manicurist that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair with a shop-girl named Crystal. After the news of Stephen’s affair is published in a gossip column, Mary decides to divorce him. To obtain her divorce, she travels to Reno, Nevada, where liberal divorce laws attracted many society women wishing to downplay any potential for scandal. While she is in Reno, Mary learns that Stephen has married Crystal. Two years later, Mary, now living back in New York with her children, learns that Crystal has been unfaithful to Stephen. With the help of her friends, Mary sets out to expose Crystal’s infidelity in order to win Stephen back.
Although men are at the center of the lives of the women in The Women, no male characters appear in the play, which is set in such locations as beauty parlors, women’s clothing stores, and other predominantly female environments. The Women addresses themes of the modern woman, marriage and divorce, female friendship, beauty standards, gossip, and socioeconomic class.
The Women has been criticized over the years as a work that portrays women as shallow, conniv ing, ‘‘catty’’ creatures whose lives revolve around their efforts to look beautiful so as to obtain and hold onto wealthy husbands. Others, however, have regarded The Women as a feminist text that addresses lasting issues about women’s status in society.
Act I, Scene 1
The Women opens with Mary Haines’s circle of high-society friends playing bridge at her Park Avenue apartment in New York City. When Mary walks out of the room, Sylvia relates that she has learned from a manicurist named Olga that Mary’s husband Stephen is carrying on an extramarital affair. When Mary returns, Sylvia encourages her to make an appointment for a manicure from Olga.
Act I, Scene 2
A few days later, Mary goes to Michael’s beauty salon to get a manicure from Olga. Olga, who does not know that Mary is the wife of Stephen Haines, relates the gossip that he is having an affair with Crystal Allen. Mary informs Olga that she is Mrs. Stephen Haines and gets up to leave, asking Olga not to continue gossiping about this matter.
Act I, Scene 3
An hour later, in Mary’s bedroom, Mrs. Moorehead (Mary’s mother) arrives and Mary tells her about Stephen having an affair. Mrs. Moorehead advises Mary to do and say nothing about it. She says that all married men, including Mary’s father, have such affairs and that it is in the wife’s best interest to pretend not to notice. Mrs. Moorehead persuades Mary to go on vacation with her to Bermuda in order to get away and let the affair blow over. Just then, Stephen calls to say he will be working late again and will not be home in time for dinner.
Act I, Scene 4
After a two-month vacation in Bermuda with her mother, Mary returns to New York. At a women’s clothing store on Fifth Avenue, she finds herself trying on clothes in a fitting room right next to one in which Crystal Allen is trying on clothes. Encouraged by her friends, Mary enters Crystal’s dressing room and confronts her about Stephen. Crystal appears unthreatened by Mary and tells her that Stephen plans on marrying her. Feeling humiliated by Crystal, Mary walks out.
Act II, Scene 1
Two weeks later, at Elizabeth Arden’s beauty salon, Mary’s friend Edith confides to her friends Sylvia and Peggy that she unthinkingly told a wellknown gossip-columnist about Stephen’s affair with Crystal and about Mary’s confrontation with Crystal at the clothing store.
Act II, Scene 2
A few days later, Mary’s maid and her cook discuss...
(The entire section is 938 words.)