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Jessica Fischer

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Girl power: KTG stages acerbic comedy of manners 'The Women'

May 30th, 2014 7:55 am by Jessica Fischer

Girl power: KTG stages acerbic comedy of manners 'The Women'

Someone with less experience — and gumption — than Tina Radtke might have run for the hills when approached about directing "The Women." Helming a production of Clare Booth Luce's comedy of manners, with its cast of 21 actresses playing 41 characters in 17 scenes, isn't for the faint of heart.

But Radtke, Kingsport Theatre Guild's new executive director, says she's had the time of her life during the past few weeks of rehearsals for the show, which opens Thursday at the Kingsport Renaissance Center.

"It has been an absolute blast," Radtke said. "Honestly, you would think 21 women on stage plus a woman director would be catty, but it has been amazing. Our youngest cast member just turned 12 and our oldest cast member is a seasoned veteran, so we span the age ranges with this show. And I think they are the most fun-loving group of women I've ever been around. I have never had a cast bond as quickly as this group has. There is never a dull moment, I promise you that."

Radtke's all-female cast of divas attempt to steal, swindle, keep and win back husbands in "The Women," an acerbic commentary on the pampered lives and power struggles of various wealthy Manhattan socialites and up-and-comers, and the gossip that propels and damages their relationships.

It's the 1970s and Mary Haines has just discovered that her husband is having an affair with a shop girl named Crystal. Assisted by her socialite girlfriends, Mary sets out on a twisting course of revenge that has more facets than a diamond tennis bracelet.

When it debuted, "The Women" was considered radical, in large part because it called for an all-female cast (men are often referred to, but never actually seen). More important was the way it simultaneously celebrated and satirized the idea of feminism. Women's relationships with men and with each other, as well as their roles in society, all are targets of Luce's not exactly rose-tinted commentary.

"It's sort of a tongue-in-cheek on the cattiness of women," Radtke said. "It really lays out and speaks to every stereotype that women fall under. Every single person will identify with at least one of the women. If it's a guy, he's going to say, 'Oh yeah, I'm married to that one,' 'I dated that one in high school,' 'I work with that one.' The women are going to go, 'Mm hmm, I know that girl, I know exactly who that is' or they're going to go, 'Oh, I'm that person.' So some of it is really going to kind of hit home because they are just classic characters. It doesn't matter what time period you set them in, the characters are still the same.

"And the characters all go through some sort of growth and a discovery process about themselves and about their relationships with the other women they consider to be in their friends group. Some of them really have to rethink what their purpose in life is. There's a lot of soul searching that goes on underneath all of it."

The show's cast members — about a third of whom are making their Kingsport Theatre Guild debuts — have also grown by leaps and bounds, with the more seasoned actors mentoring the less experienced ones, and everyone pitching in on tasks ranging from rounding up period pieces to dress the sets to moving furniture and other props between scenes.

It took some serious planning on Radtke's part to design a set that accommodates the show's 17 scenes — from Mary's boudoir and Crystal's bathroom to the women's final showdown in a snazzy nightclub.

"I sat out by the firepit one night on the back deck and drew out every single scene, then had to figure out what the different scenes had in common as far as doorways and entrances and exits and walls and that type of thing," Radtke said. "From there I had to figure out how to translate that into a set that would be able to be on stage and have room to move all this furniture in and out. We've got couches and chairs and tables and bookshelves. It goes from a living room to a dressing room in a dress shop to a hair salon back to a boudoir with a chaise lounge to a bedroom, then back to a living room. Then we go to Reno, then we're in a bathroom, we're in a bedroom.

"It all has to be very mobile, but it also has to be secure and useable. I've never used this many casters in a show ever. We've put wheels on the front of couches. We have an antique claw-foot bathtub that weighs probably 450 pounds that we are going to be using in the show because it fits the time period. We've got a full bed we're using, a chaise lounge, a sofa and chairs. We have a wall of mirrors for the dressing rooms that we have to bring on and off, a full cabinet record player."

Many of the show's period set pieces are on loan from vendors of The Haggle Shop in downtown Kingsport.

"When we dress a set doing a period piece, it's always so much harder," Radtke said. "Color schemes and costumes, I'm constantly Googling and looking at pictures and researching patterns and furniture, shapes and sizes, all of that stuff, because it is a period piece and you do want it to be as authentic as possible with our limited resources."

Due to its mild language and adult humor as well as some on-stage costume changes, "The Women" isn't for young children.

Performances will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

For tickets or more information, visit www.kingsporttheatre.org or call (423) 392-8427.

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