Review by Tulis McCall
(15 May 2010)
If you are following my reviews then you will know that there is a passel of good story telling going on around town. May Black (Phoenix Vaughn) is fresh from visiting an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a trip about which she is reluctant to speak, because going all the way into Manhattan, alone, is not something a woman like May is supposed to do in 1944 (unless of course she had a job, which anyway was only to last until her husband got home). A solo trip to Manhattan was especially not the thing to do if the expressed purpose of the trip was to see a painting that was hanging in a museum. If women who lived near Kings Highway wanted to see art, they could look at a movie magazine. That was plenty good enough.
So when our gal May makes it to the Met to see the rare Vermeer painting called The Housewives of Mannheim (a fictional painting that is s composite of several Vermeers)– she is bowled over by her own daring, and then bowled over by the painting itself. These were real live women, not movie stars, and they must have felt trapped in their lives because they only see the present. The future is unimaginable. May knows this because that is how she feels, and somehow the 400 year old painting opens a window in her life and lets in new light.
With new light comes new observations. They start tumbling out of May faster than she can speak. This frightens one neighbor Alice (Wendy Peace) but thrills another, Billie (Corey Tazmania) and her newest neighbor Sophie (Nantalie Moscco). May’s life picks up speed. She thinks about attending college. She buys an art book. She attends a Bohemian party. Then she takes one step too many and life spins out of control.
Alan Brody does a pretty good job of defining these women for us. (If you want another example of this subject see Swing Shift, with Goldie Hawn and Christine Lahti, directed by Jonathan Demme.) Housewives of Manheim has a story line that is not only refreshing, it is provocative, and it is way past time for this subject was examined without the cheesecloth filter over the camera lense. These are our mothers and grandmothers. Their stories deserve our attention.
While our nation’s chroniclers go bonkers defining and honoring The Greatest Generation, it is the men about which most of the hooplah is written. The women who greased the wheels of the war machine, who put down roots and created stability while men were off making war, who raised families and held down full time jobs simultaneously – these people get short shrift. The history books would have us think that the country was on Pause while men, and let us not forget the thousands of women service personnel, were fighting in WWII. This is simply not so. But the myth as accepted makes the glass ceiling for millions of women all over the world stronger.
So congratulations to Alan Brody and New Jersey Rep for giving this story legs. While most of the acting and text may not overwhelm you, the story will stick to you like white on rice.
One quibble regarding the title: Housewives of Manheim is a sucky title. Number one – Vermeer never referenced his subjects as housewives – “Woman”, “Lacemaker”, “Maiden”, “Girl” but not housewife. Mr. Brody goes to great lengths to make these women three-dimensional but his title makes this show sound like a reality series and undermines that effort and leads him away from his goal. Number two: I resent the term housewife. Women marry other people. They don’t marry houses.