Wendy Wasserstein’s DRA ’76 play “Uncommon Women” combines “Sex and the City” flair with an Ivy League aesthetic. Many young women studying at Yale often wonder: “I’m exceptional, so what am I supposed to do with my life?” The play, staged skillfully by Eli Clark ’07, answers this question with humor and a complexity.
“Uncommon Women” is set at a Mount Holyoke reunion, where a group of unique, funny, and sometimes neurotic women reminisce about their college pasts. The audience is then transported back in time to the girls’ senior year, when each woman grapples with decisions about her life after graduation. They are expected to be “amazing” by the time they’re 30, as Rita (Chloe Kolman ’08) repeats. Juggling the impending demands of high-level career paths, marriage, feminism, and sex is no small feat for the characters.
Intelligent and driven Kate Quinn is on the fast track to success, but when she’s accepted to Harvard Law School, she becomes uncertain about committing the rest of her life to a high-powered career.
“I don’t want my life simply to fall into place,” she says.
Kate’s former roommate, Leila, is frustrated about living in Kate’s shadow. She seeks to distinguish herself from her high-flying friend by doing humanitarian aid in Iraq.
Sweet Samantha Stewart just wants to get married and be a typical housewife, while Rita Altabel delights in being vocal about her sexual voracity and refuses to conform. Muffet DiNicola just wants to find “her prince” and is torn between the feminist teachings of her women’s history class and the desire to be physically desired.
Trust fund baby Holly Kaplan is in the midst of searching for what she wants, while rebelling against the prim-and-proper rules of Mount Holyoke. Susie Friend is overwhelmingly enthusiastic, brown-nosing the house mother, Mrs. Plumm, and trying to be the most popular and involved girl around. Observing all of them is the silent yet intriguing Carter, who focuses on making films, but more importantly, watching the goings on about her.
The cast is truly ensemble-oriented, and Clark’s casting choices are spot-on. Lacey Gattis ’07 shines as the soft-spoken, girly Samantha. Her demure but bubbly body gestures combine with the musicality of her voice. Tara Rodman ’07 is a perfectly poised Kate, and Carly Zien ’08 portrays the emotionally conflicted Leila with balance and subtlety. Jessica Poter ’08 steals several scenes as the unfailingly animated Susie. Similarly, when Kolman is on stage, she owns the show with her exuberant outbursts and inappropriate (usually sexually explicit) announcements.
Considering the script is written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, it is impressive that the performance’s low-point is its script. Wasserstein, to her credit, seems to have crafted nine incredibly rich and complex female characters, yet she appears to have neglected a master storyline worthy of them.
The characters interact with one other in various permutations, listening to each others’ concerns about the future. But, unsatisfyingly, none of them ever seem to fight or challenge each other. There’s a lot of listening, a lot of rhetoric, sequential vignettes, and scenes that end rather lamely. Wasserstein might have taken some of the play’s issues much further: There’s a level of romantic flirtation between the women visible at times, but it’s never fully acknowledged. The choice between feminism and wanting to be feminine is similarly brought up but not resolved. Perhaps the playwright didn’t want to include answers to these questions, but the show would have benefited from a more profound engagement with them.
“Uncommon Women” smacks of debut effort, but, of course, it was one. It’s shortcomings by no means should detract from either the play’s successes or Wasserstein’s legacy.