What does it take to get a naïve woman to think for herself? What does it take to have a wife not miss her husband who is off fighting for his country? What does it take for a woman to be free enough to speak the truth about her innermost feelings for another woman?
To help you discover some very intriguing answers, go get yourself a ticket to a modest new play with some immodest ideas by Alan Brody – “The Housewives of Mannheim” that is sensitively directed by Suzanne Barabas and finely acted by the cast of four which has just opened at 59 E 59 Street Theaters. Originally produced by the New Jersey Repertory Company it has arrived in Manhattan with its original cast intact. And what a wonderful cast it is.
Four Jewish women, living in Brooklyn, during WWII. Husbands have gone off to war, leaving their wives behind to take care of the kids and wait for things to return to normal. Will they ever? After a new tenant – Sophie Birnbaum (Natalie Mosco) moves in with her piano that busy body Alice (Wendy Peace) can’t wait to describe to innocent and beautiful May (Pheonix Vaughn) over coffee in the richly detailed kitchen set by Jessica L. Parks we start to wonder.
The about to blossom May has begun to think what it would be like to be independent. She has uncharacteristically gone off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see a painting attributed to Vermeer – The Housewives of Mannheim – women that appear to her to be trapped in their lives. So she is ripe for some new pleasures and even goes so far as to fill out an application to apply to college.
The arrival of the worldly wise widow Sophie (who has fled the Nazis and who was a concert pianist) is the catalyst that sets off a series of events that have been percolating for the past ten years. Billie (Corey Tazmania) sells fine linens to try to escape with her son from Brooklyn and an unhappy marriage to her dentist husband who remains on the home front. She’s the funny one. On the outside. Inside she harbors deep set feelings and fears that slowly emerge and culminate in her seductive dance after coming home tipsy from a Bohemian party with the newly thinking for herself and equally tipsy May. It’s one of the most sensitively directed and tasteful seduction scenes that you will ever see. All season long I have seen so many homosexual plays that I began to wonder, when will women get their turn. Well, this is it.
The dialogue by Alan Brody is rich in detail and humor. It’s a pleasure to hear these people speak with one another. His structure is also strong as are his characters. There is good story telling going on here. He makes all his points while keeping us interested throughout.
The use of period music between scenes is just another Midas touch.
How does May treat Billie after that fateful night? Will she accept Billie as she was before or reject her? It’s fascinating how this all plays out. And what will happen when the men finally do come home? For that we’ll have to wait for the next two installments of this trilogy of plays. www.59E59.org www.njrep.org
Photo: Suzanne Barabas