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    Classic 'Women' shows original girl power

    These not-so-fair ladies of Clare Boothe Luce's The Women bring their wit and grit to play in the scramble for husbands.

    By THERESA BLACKWELL
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 11, 2002


    LARGO -- Two enormous, sleek cats frame the stage at the Largo Cultural Center, where the current production offers feline wiles and vicious, predatory charm.

    The Women, by Clare Boothe Luce, casts 39 women -- no men -- in a play that pits friend against friend in a clawing scramble for husbands. The 1936 comedy, recently revived on Broadway, satirizes New York's Park Avenue women.

    At first, the biting portrayal of the sexes may startle, but soon the witty conversation has you leaning in to share in the revelations. It's entertainment, after all, and we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, the director said.

    The Eight O'Clock Theatre production opened Thursday and runs four days a week through Jan. 27.

    With encouragement from director and set designer James Demetrius, the Tampa Bay area actors rose above the fray offstage. Many were making their theater debut or coming out front from the stage crew. They indulged the feminine side together, trying the swooping hairstyles of the day and narrowing down costume choices. Through two months of rehearsals, they supported each other, more given to terms of endearment than to barbs.

    Demetrius set the standard on the first day of rehearsal.

    "Ladies!" he said. "All the cattiness in the show stays on stage."

    Maria Gerakios of Palm Harbor, deliciously vicious as Sylvia, said she thinks Demetrius is pleasantly surprised.

    "Back-stabbing and gossiping -- we haven't really had any of that," she said. "He told us that no part is bigger than any other part and that no one should feel any less than anyone else."

    Not that Gerakios didn't look the part of the "best-dressed woman in New York" in a red suit and one of her hats before a dress rehearsal Sunday.

    "Isn't she ravishing?" said Demetrius.

    Karen Barth, the Largo Cultural Center marketing specialist who is acting in her first show since second grade, has found the costuming process bonding.

    "The past week has been like playing dress-ups with 36 of your best friends in Grandma's attic -- a very big attic."

    Grandma in this case is costumer Karina Ross of Clearwater, who also amuses as the *ever-pregnant Edith.

    Mary, the play's protagonist who learns to be more cat-like as the plot unfolds, is played authentically by Barbara Anthony of Clearwater. "Friends" help Mary toward divorce court after discovering her husband's infidelity.

    "Karina's done a great job," Anthony said as she looked over one of her dresses in the dressing room.

    At an adjoining dressing table, Jan E. Farrell of Largo was helping Lisa Finegold of Clearwater, 12, with her hair. Farrell vamps on stage as Crystal, the "other woman," and Finegold plays Crystal's unwilling stepdaughter and Mary's daughter.

    "It looks beautiful, darling," Farrell said.

    Finegold smiled and did a little jump as she said, "Thank you."

    As the cast waited for the rehearsal to start Sunday, Elaine Rigsby of Largo, whose husband of 53 years died in October, talked about what playing Sadie in the last act has meant to her.

    "This is my group therapy," she said. "I just wanted a little part, to be involved, and it's really helped. They're a wonderful group of women."

    If you go

    The Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive, presents The Women at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. The shows continue Jan. 17-20 and Jan. 24-27. Tickets are $12.50 reserved, $10 for groups of 10 or more and $6 for students. Call (727) 587-6793.

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