I went with the hope of expunging the memory of the recent cinematic remake of Clare Boothe Luce's sharply observed look at life among women of means. What this production ended up doing was reminding me of other, better productions. Most of the best work in the show is being done around the edges in the smaller roles of all the service personnel that ladies of a certain social station require, probably because their duties are the only things on the stage that happen quickly. Director Elise Robertson delivers a show unfettered by either pace or vision, and, to make matters worse, she's also responsible for the cumbersome set, which initially charms with its art deco modular pieces but eventually proves just one more impediment as each set change involves conscripting the well-dressed cast to spend ages rearranging everything. There's a snap and verve to this style of comedy that eludes the director completely. As played, the speech borders on the conversational and the timing is, at best, casual. Too, the director has miscast the central role of Mary Haines — an innocent naive whose straying husband forces her to discover and employ her claws — with an actor whose arsenal is deficient in things demure. From the first moment we see her, Vanessa Waters has an air of worldliness, and with her almost imperious mien she probably would have proven excellent in practically any role other than Mary. The character simply has nowhere to go. There is a bright spot in the performance of Emma Messenger as Edith, the constantly pregnant character with the marginal mothering skills, and Bibi Tinsley is fine in both the secondary role of Mary's mother and her delightful, if short, turn as a ladies' room attendant, but the rest of the cast is pretty much rudderless. There's a lot of archness going on but very little that comes off as real. We need these women to fully inhabit the soignée frocks that Stephanie O'Neill and Rachel Kanouse have designed for them. All too often, alas, it just looks as if they're playing dress-up.
Presented by and at the Circus Theatricals Studio Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sep. 27-Nov. 1. (323) 960-1054. www.circustheatricals.com/tickets.html.