THE AUDACIOUS OPENING act of Caryl Churchill’s modern classic Top Girls assembles a millennium’s worth of female power, pain, and wisdom at one lively dinner party. Setting the mood for a story focused on modern career woman Marlene (Karina Hilleard), Churchill enlists five larger-than-life female figures — real and fictional, legendary and literary — to voice the struggles and conquests of women throughout history.
The director [Amber Paige McGinnis] and ensemble pinpoint the rhythms of community — the support, commiseration, and competitiveness — that Churchill’s script captures so well. That convivial spirit creates a comforting space for the rage expressed in [Caroline] Dubberly’s mostly silent performance as Gret, or the hurt projected by [Alexandra] Palting’s naive Lady Nijo, who doesn’t much distinguish between being with her man and being raped by him. The ladies’ strength and independence is heartily exemplified in [Susan Marie] Rhea’s rousing turn as trousers-clad traveler, [Isabella] Bird.
Hilleard, meanwhile, makes a riveting Marlene, leading the story forward into Thatcher’s England, where she and several other ladies toil at a London employment agency. Again, McGinnis and the cast mine sharp comedy from the rapport of Marlene and her mates, while delivering pointed portrayals of several female clients who seek better prospects at the agency.
Yet what lingers is the intensity of sisterhood conjured by Marlene, Joyce, and all the ladies, present or merely evoked, that join them at the table.