THE WOMEN, Headstrong Theatre. The bitchy dialogue and whiplash wisecracks in Clare Boothe Luce's catty 1937 classic create a modern-day school for scandal, as saintly Mary Haines tries to rescue her wandering husband from the clutches of man-eating Crystal Allen. Flirting with misogyny, the playwright digs deep nails into Mary's treacherous friends: scheming Sylvia Fowler is exhibit A in Luce's argument that, where men are at stake, female loyalty is a contradiction in terms. And those who don't initiate cruel gossip will eagerly spread it where it wreaks the most damage.
Set in 1948 rather than 1937, Headstrong Theatre's period-perfect staging is also a fashion show. The hardworking cast of 14 don 70 vintage costumes and much scintillating jewelry in director-designer William T. Buster's crisp staging, which gives Luce's combustible exchanges the power and precision of a cracked whip. Played with nary a hint of camp, this chic revival burnishes Luce's wicked wit to a high luster.
Cast to perfection, the players give scrumptious performances that spare no stereotype. As all-suffering, good-as-gold Mary, Kerry B. Smith incarnates class as well as the quiet desperation of a wife in her final bloom who fears a huntress in her first. Laura Slater's Sylvia is dressed to kill in a whirlwind wardrobe of gorgeous gowns, Kristine Karvelas is gut-bustingly funny as booze-guzzling, oft-married Countess, and the industriously designing Julie Granata commands as much respect for Crystal's pluck as revulsion at her cunning.