Dorothy Parker and Arnaud d'Usseau's 1953 tragicomedy turns out to be more interesting historically than dramatically. It was Parker's only multicharacter stage play and d'Usseau was blacklisted soon after its premiere. The American middle-class woman's ideal back then was the new first lady, Mamie Eisenhower: As a military wife, she followed Ike around; after his death, she sat tight at home.
These ladies, denizens of an Upper East Side residential hotel, are mostly widows and bereft without their men. They drink, gossip, go to movies daily, and do needlepoint, "which is just another substitute for sex," cracks the outsider (played with charming gusto by Jo Ann Cunningham). She must work, which makes the other women disdain her. A new widow (Susan Jeffries) finds romance with a much younger man. A divorcée (Domenica Cameron-Scorsese) drinks and is unsuitable for any work, though she needs the money. A wheelchair-bound invalid (Peggy Cowles, chilling in her transition to manipulative monster) is cared for by her middle-aged son.
Dan Wackerman's direction of this episodic narrative is smoother than the text would suggest, and the depiction of the milieu is first-rate thanks to the superb costumes by Amy C. Bradshaw and the highly functional two-level set by Chris Jones. Two of the best performances are by men in difficult roles: Kelly AuCoin is entirely convincing as the young suitor who is not a gold digger. Ron Bagden is touching as the invalid's son who wants to break free. Some other performances are a bit too arch; naturalistic acting might have made the characters more believable and sympathetic.
Parker's trademark wit is evident on occasion: "He left me for someone who was young for the first time." "Illness was becoming to Elliott; it seemed to relax him." But what's missing here is any real insight or resolution.