“Directed with no-holds-barred fervor and laughs by Thomas Caruso, the meta-theatrical femalecentric comedy stars the blockbuster cast of stage and screen favorites Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron as the Baby-Boomer buddies since college some 40 years ago, who offer their insights into aging, men, the next generation, life, each other, and the never-ending challenges of being a woman…Highly entertaining, funny,
and relevant.”

Old friends battle and bond over birthday brunch in ‘Madwomen of the West’ at Off-Broadway’s Actors Temple Theatre 🔗
Deb MillerDC Theater Arts

When Marilyn decides to throw a surprise birthday brunch for Claudia at Jules’ sleekly furnished $10 million Brentwood home, Zoey, a successful actress-turned-Yoga-advocate who’s been living in London, shows up unexpectedly, drinks flow and personalities clash, as the four long-time friends of a certain age share their opinions, open up about their personal problems (Marilyn’s is a doozy), battle and bond, in the Off-Broadway premiere of Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West, playing a limited engagement at Actors Temple Theatre. Directed with no-holds-barred fervor and laughs by Tom Caruso, the meta-theatrical femalecentric comedy stars the blockbuster cast of stage and screen favorites Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron as the Baby-Boomer buddies since college some 40 years ago, who offer their insights into aging, men, the next generation, life, each other, and the never-ending challenges of being a woman.

Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron, and Brooke Adams. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The show opens with Aaron directly addressing the audience with a story about her first introduction to the Actors Temple three decades ago by Shelley Winters (“yes that Shelley Winters”), which proves to be the first of many breaks by the cast through the fourth wall, as they shift back and forth between their roles and themselves. Loh’s characters even have many of the well-known attributes of the real-life women, including Henner’s “highly superior autobiographical memory” (HSAM) or hyperthymesia, a rare brain condition, diagnosed in less than 100 people worldwide, which enables her to remember everything that ever happened to her, with precise dates and details. They also make running jokes about the show’s low budget, supposedly (but intentionally) providing for minimal props and design elements (many of which they mime or ask us to envision). The result is a greater sense of the actresses’ personal connection to the story, its outspoken humor, and their audience of enthusiastic fans, who get all the inside jokes (except for the one about Brentwood that doesn’t hit in NYC but “would get a big laugh in LA”).

Each woman is given her moment in the spotlight, beginning with Aaron’s riotously, unapologetically feisty Marilyn, a dedicated teacher and founder of a girls’ school, who doesn’t quite understand the dramatic rise in “the trans wave” or the current use of pronouns, is cheating on her pre-diabetic sugar cleanse and is smoking again, whose retired husband is around the house too much and is getting on her nerves, and who never even tries to hide her aversion and hilarious reactions to Henner’s vain Zoey (making a grand entrance down the center aisle and striking poses throughout the show), her long absence in London and lack of contact with the close-knit group, phony British accent, or sexualized conversation and behavior (with a tour-de-force sequence of eye-rolling, head-shaking, face-covering, and accent mocking) – all setting the stage for a disastrous reunion brunch but an uproarious comedy with masterful performances.

Marilu Henner (center), with Melanie Mayron, Brooke Adams, and Caroline Aaron. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Mayron’s Claudia – a previously acclaimed but now struggling photographer who is “vaguely Jewish, vaguely lesbian . . . not the new kind, the old-fashioned kind,” hates surprise parties, is suffering from depression, and is being ghosted by her trans child JJ over an argument they had – shows up in her plaid flannel PJs and work boots and lets herself in with the key she has to Jules’ house, unaware of the planned celebration (cheaply decorated by Marilyn, though all we see is a colorful piñata hanging in the center of the room, due to the low props budget), then tries to leave once the tirades begin, but only makes it to the edge of the stage (thanks to Uber). And Brooke Adams’ Jules, called out by an angry Claudia as “passive aggressive and controlling,” is generally less forcefully combative, though she, like the others, has a couple of big reveals of her own that she’s kept beneath the surface (and in her water bottle), until she doesn’t.

Brooke Adams and Melanie Mayron. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The ostensibly non-existent budget adds to the meta-theatrical gags, though the tastefully simple modern set by Christian Fleming, with a painted backdrop screen of palm trees and a rolling bar cart, efficiently set the scene in upscale Brentwood, with lighting by Pamela Kupper and sound effects by Max Silverman that surprise the cast. And the character-defining costumes did not come from their own closets, as we are told, but were well-designed by Sharon Feldstein and Erin Hirsch.

Will the friendships survive? Will these women support each other when no one else in our still sexist and ageist world does? Find out for yourself at Actors Temple, in the highly entertaining, funny, and relevant Madwomen of the West.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, without intermission.

Madwomen of the West plays through Saturday, December 31, 2023, at Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $48.50-130, including fees), call (212) 239-6200, or go online.

“Under the genially loopy direction of Thomas Caruso, “Madwomen of the West” is an extremely relaxed evening in the theater.”

‘Madwomen of the West’ Off Broadway Review: Four Famous Faces Stage a Wild Reunion 🔗
Robert HoflerThe Wrap

Melanie Mayron, Marilu Henner, Brooke Adams and Caroline Aaron headline a birthday brunch from hell.

Madwomen of the West Off Broadway
“Madwomen of the West” (Credit: Carol Rosegg)

If it has been a while since you’ve seen Melanie Mayron, Marilu Henner, Brooke Adams or Caroline Aaron onscreen or on TV, so it’s nice to report that they are all having a very good time together at the Actors Temple Theatre in Sandra Tsing Loh’s comedy “Madwomen of the West,” which had its New York City premiere Monday.

At their very best, these four actors make the case that everyone should be a post-menopausal woman. At her very best, Loh keeps the women at each other’s throat to great comic effect for most of this one-act 100-minute play.

Only occasionally along the way, and especially at the end, do these four feisty female characters play nice with each other and, in effect, dilute the fun. The four of them are most engaging when playing a drunk (Adams), a show-off (Henner), a slob (Mayron) and a bigot (Aaron).

Under the genially loopy direction of Thomas Caruso, “Madwomen of the West” is an extremely relaxed evening in the theater. Aaron kicks things off by telling a story about the Actors Temple, which is also a functioning synagogue on Fridays, and how during rehearsals of Paul Mazursky’s 1993 movie, “The Pickle,” Shelley Winters left the company briefly, with Aaron in tow, to observe Yom Kippur at this synagogue in Hell’s Kitchen.

Later, when the play finally gets going and a line doesn’t get a laugh, Aaron informs us that the comment got a big response in Los Angeles. And “Madwomen” may also be the first play at which the audience gets to vote on whether there’s going to be an intermission or not.

Since Aaron’s blousy, outspoken character Marilyn really hates Henner’s svelte, super-successful character Zoey, and since Marilyn also smokes, cheats on her diet and has problems with gender nonconforming pronouns, it goes without saying she walks away with most of the laughs. Frankly, Aaron turns mugging into an art form. Watching her react to Henner’s monologue on Zoey’s vulva is a comic highpoint not to be missed.

Mayron occasionally steals the spotlight back in her role as the pajama-wearing lesbian of the group, who also has the comic advantage of not having spoken to her transgender child for a few days. To escape the toxicity of her friends on her birthday, Mayron’s Claudia dials up an Uber that never arrives.

That’s unfortunate for Claudia, since it means she has to be there for Loh’s sitcom let’s-all-get-along finale.

“Directed to a fare-thee-well by Thomas Caruso.”

David FinkleNew York Stage Review

★★★☆☆ Sandra Tsing Loh’s play about the stage-screen-tv performers reuniting, Thomas Caruso directs

Melanie Mayron, Marilu Henner, Brooke Adams, and Caroline Aaron in Madwomen of the West. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Whoa, what have we here right on a local stage? Why, it’s — in alphabetical order — Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron, all beloved for big screen, little screen, and stage appearances over several decades. (You do the math on their ages, if you’re so inclined.)

The four have been rounded up to participate in Madwomen of the West — a play by Sandra Tsing Loh, already a Los Angeles long-run. In it they don’t play themselves, but characters specifically based on themselves and their enduring four-way friendship. Caroline is Marilyn, Brooke is Jules, Marilu is Zoey, Melanie is Claudia.

To what extent are they so much like themselves?  More than once Henner, known for having an unusually good memory, is called on to demonstrate Zoey’s unusually good memory. For another instance, Aaron and Henner have talked on the phone just about daily for 40 years, which Marilyn and Zoey all but acknowledge here. For yet another instance, Claudia chats about the truths and specifics of being “vaguely Jewish, vaguely lesbian,” which Mayron is, perhaps minus the “vague.”

British character actor Robert Morley was asked one late night by Jack Paar about his definition of good theater. He said, “Four people come out on stage, sit on a sofa and converse.” This is exactly what Aaron, Adams, Henner, and Mayron do, or close to.

They sit on three plush couches before a backdrop of palm trees (put there by set designer Christian Fleming) and banter non-stop. (They look smart in Sharon Feldstein’s casual outfits, although Mayron wears thick boots.”) Also, they don’t steadfastly remain seated throughout, as Bette Midler did when portraying Sue Mengers on Broadway some years back in John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last monologue that kinda reads as a precursor to this enterprise.

The four madwomen, directed to a fare-thee-well by Thomas Caruso, are up and about possibly as much as a couple hundred times, standing and sitting and moving and sitting again and standing and sitting and rearranging. All the while they confront each other, justify each other, encourage each other, contradict each other, enjoy each other, and reminisce for about 100 nostalgia-filled minutes. Incidentally, Caroline and Jules, have gathered to celebrate Claudia’s birthday. Zoey, who long estranged herself from the others for any number of lucrative projects, is a surprise guest.

What do they talk about? A better question is, what don’t they talk about? When Mayron as Claudia recalls performing a certain handy service for an aroused male, it’s clear nothing is out of bounds. Intermittently, they render bits of Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back.” The implication is that from time to time they (as do many women) like thinking of themselves as bitches.

Which specific topics are discussed as four-letter words slice the air? Marilyn, pre-diabetic, mentions not sticking closely to her prescribed “sugar cleanse.” They bring up “the trans thing.” Zoey goes on rather grandly about the “granularity of life.” Breast surgery is recounted. Of Donald J. Trump taking office in 2017, Marilyn blurts, “How ‘bout those f*****g pussy hats?” and rails on. A few husbands, Gloria Steinem, a Michael Pollan bouillabaisse, a Peloton instructor, puberty and menstruation are mooted — and more, until sober confessions of their feelings about each other take late precedence.

(Incidentally, occasional audience participation occurs. Aaron, as designated emcee, puts the okay on that at the informal get-go. Eventually, patrons are even encouraged to sing the title ditty from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Many are happy to do so. Playwright Loh, you see, knows the movie-and-tv-lovers-of-a-certain-age to whom she’s appealing.)

Much of what gets discussed in a spectrum of moods is funny as well as pertinent. During this “girl-talk” affair, however, more than seems helpful comes across as forced. Indeed, there are times when the correct entertaining approach for arranging a theatrical Aaron-Adams-Henner-Mayron reunion might have been to let them gab about their actual experiences rather than spouting those lived by the fictional Marilyn, Jules, Zoey, and Claudia — something along the lines of The View.

Wait a sec. Perhaps playwright Loh has modeled her stand-in characters so closely on the originals that they are already speaking as and for themselves — and as themselves are also representing women everywhere when talking candidly with no men present.

One certainty: Playing either themselves or versions of themselves, they’re extremely convincing at it. On that score, audiences won’t come anywhere near being disappointed. After all, the casting is truly the point here, isn’t it?

Madwomen of the West opened December 4, 2023, at the Actors Temple Theatre and runs through December 31. Tickets and information: telecharge.com

David Finkle is a freelance journalist specializing in the arts and politics. He has reviewed theater for several decades, for publications including The Village Voice and Theatermania.com, where for 12 years he was chief drama critic. He is also currently chief drama critic at The Clyde Fitch Report. For an archive of older reviews, go here. Email: [email protected].

“An entertaining show breezily directed by Thomas Caruso…Under Caruso’s assured direction, the four stars seem as comfortable on the stage as in their own living room.”

Review: Women of a Certain Age Have Their Say in Madwomen of the West 🔗
Zachary StewartTheater Scene

Marilu Henner and Caroline Aaron star in Sandra Tsing Loh’s chatty drama.

Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron, and Brooke Adams star in Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West, directed by Thomas Caruso, at the Actors Temple Theatre.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Is there any group of people more taken for granted by the theater (by the world) than older women? They’re expected to check their privilege with their coats and make space while quietly paying full admission at many of our most prestigious venues. Deviate from this routine, and you run the risk of being branded a Karen. Stay in your place, and you continue to be practically invisible. Well, at least at the by-no-means prestigious Actors Temple, old ladies are getting their say in Sandra Tsing Loh’s provocative Madwomen of the West.

It’s the sixty-[redacted] birthday of Claudia (Melanie Mayron), a photographer whose career is on the wane. Jules (Brooke Adams) hosts the event in her Brentwood home, while Marilyn (Caroline Aaron) rustles up some Party City decorations and a pupu platter. They settle in for a cozy brunch among friends, but all that changes when they learn of the imminent arrival of their estranged fourth, Zoey (Marilu Henner).

Marilyn cheats out to the audience and asks, “Our former actress friend turned international wellness guru?!?” — as if the two other women at the party don’t know exactly who she is. Loh cheekily plows through such exposition with a script that is both self-aware and self-deprecating. The goal was never to write a perfectly crafted drama, with timeless human quandaries springing seamlessly from an airtight plot. Rather, Loh seems interested in placing four women of a certain age, but with different perspectives, onstage where they can hash it out. That makes this play feel like a long “Hot Topics” segment on The View, beyond the watchful eye of the mouse and his team of HR enforcers.

“Five years ago, less than 1% of the U.S. said they were trans,” says Marilyn. “This year, at Westgate Girls School? An entire third of 8th grade is trans…It’s the new bulimia.” She later ponders, “I wonder: if this taking hormones, and having surgery — If this ‘I don’t want to be a girl’ thing is just one more way for teen girls to hate themselves.” This is a suspicion I’ve never heard uttered from the stage of an off-Broadway theater, but it’s one that millions of reasonable people certainly have. By putting it in her show, Loh not only meets her audience where they are, but scoops up rich dramatic material from the floor where it has been so carelessly discarded.

Obviously, the other women don’t see things exactly the way Marilyn does (Claudia has a trans child, which isn’t to say she’s fully onboard). And therein lies the drama, as these four women grapple with menopause, professional expectations, shifting marital relationships, and the nagging disappointments of womanhood in America.

Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron, Marilu Henner, Brooke Adams, and Caroline Aaron star in Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West, directed by Thomas Caruso, at the Actors Temple Theatre. (© Carol Rosegg)

Aaron makes a particularly compelling advocate for her character, a liberal educator caught in the riptide of shifting culture. She turns to the audience and says, “God, do we need Hillary now? RIGHT?!?” And by the raucous response, you’d think she was talking about the Kaiser to a group of Prussian Junkers circa 1931. Every line is so sharp, every retort so perfectly timed, that we leave with no doubt about who Marilyn is and what she stands for. We can easily imagine her becoming the charismatic dictator of a new country, the borders of which roughly align with the Upper West Side.

The other three actors match her passion, if not her precision. Adams conceals Jules’s incandescent rage behind an innocuous smile. Mayron’s Claudia conveys the exhaustion of a woman who has spent years fighting on multiple fronts. In contrast, Henner beams onstage like an aggressive ray of sunshine. Rich and famous, her Zoey has ostensibly won the game by embracing a granola-munching, kombucha-guzzling vision of contemporary womanhood (a late monologue about masturbation serves as a climax). Part of the fun of Madwomen of the West is seeing how the people who know her best, her true friends, chip away at that façade.

Thomas Caruso directs with a light hand, delivering a well-paced staging that mostly stays out of the way of the performers. Christian Fleming’s faux-ritzy scenic design (the golden pineapple coffee table is especially hideous) offers an appropriate setting for this live chat show, with well-selected costumes by Sharon Feldstein and Erin Hirsh. The lights (by Pamela Kupper) and sound (by Max Silverman) create little theatrical embellishments, so we’re never under the delusion that what we’re witnessing is strict realism — even if the views expressed are quite authentic.

As contrived as it is, Madwomen of the West still fascinates with its unapologetic and humorous depiction of older women and their grievances, and would make an ideal post-brunch activity for you and your close circle of friends. It’s sure to get you talking.

Featured In This Story

C3 NY PlaybillAd Page 1

Madwomen of the West


Final performance: December 31, 2023

Buy Tickets