"LADIES' SIDE," an intermittently amusing mystery/comedy at Source Theater's Warehouse Rep, aspires to whodunit status. But at the end, a question lingers -- what exactly was dun?
Alex Finlayson's play, which won Source's playwriting contest last year, resembles in its weaker passages the recently departed "Octette Bridge Club," and at its best, George Cukor's film "The Women." All three offer a dated, stereotyped "women's view" of the world, created through a slick, ceaseless stream of gossip.
Finlayson glazes the chatter with a veneer of mystery. At the "ladies' side" of an elite fishing camp in 1959 Texas, oilmen's idle wives whisper about the disappearance of one prominent husband -- his empty fishing boat is spotted on the lake early in the play.
Finlayson alludes opaquely to predestiny and family curses, but in such vague terms that she adds more murk to already-muddied waters -- it's work enough keeping all the characters' names and relations straight.
The play opens promisingly enough with a tangy prologue about the origins of Texas society, but the rest never lives up to it. Though Finlayson has an ear for natural conversation, its effectiveness is hampered by the too-deliberate pace set by directors Genie Barton and Margaret Hahn.
Thankfully, the directors haven't insisted on Texas twangs for all the actresses. The most successful and unaffected performers are Jennifer Logan and Jacobina Martin as the two youngsters, Little Nell and Little Leslie. Cliff McMullin as Fred the bartender and Constance Fowlkes, as the eternally tomboyish Lu, also play their parts well.
As Lisbeth, the menacing matriarch and wife of the mysteriously vanished Buff, Columba Hogan is seriously miscast, an unintentionally hilarious hybrid of Tallulah Bankhead and Katharine Hepburn.
LADIES' SIDE -- At Source Theater's Warehouse Rep through June 2.