TOP GIRLS, Piven Theatre. In the decade since Caryl Churchill's contemporary classic Top Girls premiered, the problem she addresses--how a woman can make it in a man's world--hasn't changed significantly. While women in America and western Europe have made strides toward equality in the workplace, unresolved issues of pay, child care, and maternity leave show that it's an ongoing battle. Part of what makes Churchill's play such a fascinating and complex exploration of this challenge is her first act, in which Marlene, a high-powered British businesswoman, dines with a sampling of archetypal women from history. This highly dramatic tool is stunningly effective in Joyce Piven's current staging. With a strong ensemble cast, Piven makes the historical stories resonate as true and heartfelt; the act builds to a passionate climax as such characters as a 13th-century Japanese courtesan turned Buddhist nun, The Canterbury Tales's Patient Griselda, and Pope Joan lament the pain and loss of motherhood when men determine the basic rites--and rights--of their lives. The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the same.
The ensemble, featuring Kristin Randall, Justine Scarpa, Lynne Baker, Lynn Hirsch, Gita Tanner, Kathleen Ruhl, Craige Christensen, and Joanne Underwood, all have a sure sense of Churchill's rhythms, her overlapping, fast-paced language. Top Girls is a triumphant, unapologetic play, and this cast steps into its world with the necessary strength and gusto. --Gabrielle S. Kaplan