Two Scranton playhouses present all-male and all-female shows over same run

The all-male “Glengarry Glen Ross” with its female director and the all-female “The Women” with its male director play out on separate Scranton stages starting this week in a theatrical battle of the sexes.
Diva Productions brings David Mamet’s examination of the 1980s cutthroat real-estate business to the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., while Actors Circle tackles female relationships amid a gossipy, catty society in comedic style at Providence Playhouse, 1256 Providence Road. “The Women” opens Thursday, and “Glengarry” follows Friday; both run on weekends through April 2.

Planning ahead
Paige Balitski, “Glengarry” director and Diva’s founder, scheduled the show after learning of Actors Circle’s plan to present “The Women.” She knew a play with more than 20 women in its cast meant actresses she might want for a Diva show likely would be unavailable. Balitski always wanted to tackle “Glengarry” and thought now seemed like “the perfect time” to do it.
“First of all, it’s Mamet, and he writes tough and gritty,” she said. “And for men, this is always a play that men want to do, so I knew that if I announced auditions, I would get excellent actors. And, boy, did I ever.”
Diva’s eight-man cast includes T.J. Zale and Casey Thomas as salesmen and Scott Colin as their office manager. Balitski described the characters — businessmen tasked with making deals or else risk losing their jobs — as “men who make or break their careers on closing (deals).”
“Roles like this or shows like this come along so rarely. … When you’re able to sink your teeth into a piece of drama like this, you jump at the chance as an actor,” Colin said.
The Tony-winning “Glengarry” debuted on Broadway in 1984, and an acclaimed film adaptation starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin followed in 1992. Colin said the show has endured because “David Mamet is able to turn these characters in a short amount of time into very, very real, conversational people.” Zale called it “excellent modern playwriting.”
“Every character has something going on underneath these words,” he said.
Diva’s cast has impressed Balitski with its ability to learn a tough script with dialogue that often changes direction mid-sentence.
“Mamet writes tough,” she said. “He writes in what I like to call ‘fits and stops.’”
Zale called the frequent swearing in the script “part of the texture of (the characters’) language,” but it “doesn’t mean their human emotions are different than anybody else.”
“They are striving and working really hard to what they got,” Zale said. “It’s the human endeavor. It’s what it’s about to make a living and support your family and do the right thing.”

Focus on relationships
While known mainly for its all-female cast — a vision adaptations take so far as to feature only female children, animals and subjects in artwork — “The Women’s” greater focus falls on the relationships among its characters.
“Women have now — and back in the ’30s, when this is set — they do have a mind of their own,” said Brink Powell, who plays Mary Haines. “They are in charge of their own destinies. (And) particularly in the case of these women, they’re rich society women; they don’t go to work. Their husbands support them. But even in that situation, they’re not letting themselves be defined by men. Women and men and any person need to define themselves and not let themselves be defined by someone else.”
Clare Boothe Luce’s comedy hit Broadway in 1936, and a now-classic film adaptation starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell followed in 1939 (another came out in 2008). The story follows Mary, whose husband has divorced her and married Crystal Allen, a social climber he had an affair with, and their interactions with each other and their fellow society mavens.
“It’s a comedy for sure, and what is not more comedic than love?” said Jennifer Frey, who plays Crystal. “We see it being treated seriously, and not that love isn’t serious and marriage isn’t serious, but if you can’t laugh at the tragedy of life, what can you laugh at? And so falling in love, falling out of love having boyfriends … all of these storylines are taken on in ‘The Women.’”
Director Ted LoRusso told the cast to think of the play like a “Real Housewives” show.
“There’s a whole slew of really hilarious, funny characters who just go a mile a minute with all these wonderful one-liners,” he said. “And there’s a catty quality to it.”
Since Powell’s character deals “with some pretty heavy emotions,” she doesn’t get opportunities to be funny. But she said the play nevertheless is a lot fun, with the cast laughing its way through rehearsals.
“You don’t think a play about catty women backstabbing each other could be so hilarious,” she said.
Frey — president of the board of Cinderella’s Closet of NEPA, a nonprofit that takes donated prom and other types of dresses and sells them at affordable prices to girls in need — also helped behind the scenes. Cinderella’s Closet sometimes receives slightly broken or vintage donations, which it cannot use. Instead, the group donates them to different theaters, this time sending the pieces to “The Women,” which Frey said “called for some very dressy dresses.”
“That was one of the issues I did stress out about,” LoRusso said. “We have 22 actresses and 12 scene changes and about 60 costumes. And I thought, ‘How in the heck are we going to do this?”

Continued support
While the plays run the same weekends, in truth, this battle of the sexes ended before it began. Many cast members know those from the other play from previous productions, and each show plans to take one of its off nights to catch the other in action, even if it’s at a rehearsal. The playhouses sit a mile apart, Balitski said, so “there’s no reason not to help each other out.”
“The theater community is very small,” she said. “There’s a lot of them in the surrounding counties, but we all belong to an organization. We all see each others’ shows and help each other.”
And audiences can experience the “best of both worlds” with the two shows running concurrently, Powell said.
“I hope that people will come to both,” she said. “Have a night of women, and then have a night of men.”
— caitlin heaney west

 

If you go

“The Women,” presented by Actors Circle
When: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sundays, 2 p.m., through April 2
Where: Providence Playhouse, 1256 Providence Road, Scranton
Details: Tickets for Thursday’s show are $8 for general admission and seniors and $6 for students. For remaining dates, tickets are $12 for general admission, $10 for seniors and $8 for students. For reservations, call 570-342-9707 or email tickets@actorscircle.com.
“Glengarry Glen Ross,” presented by
Diva Productions
When: Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sundays, 2 p.m., through April 2
Where: Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., Scranton
Details: Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 570-209-7766. Seating is limited. The show contains adult situations and strong language.

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