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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Uncommon Women...and Others
Directed by Marrily Mossman, Steven Robman
Kultur Films Inc. 1979 DVD/VHS Feature Film
"Each year the colleges produce women who are persons in their own rights; uncommon women who as individuals have the personal dignity that comes with intelligence, competence and a sense of responsibility," states the male commentator in the opening scenes of this drama, a "Theater in America" presentation of PBS's "Great Performances" series. Five graduates of Mt. Holyoke, one of the Seven Sisters Colleges, are gathered in a restaurant seven years after their graduation. They are Kate (Jill Eikenberry), a lawyer; Muffet (Ellen Parker), an insurance seminar hostess; Holly (Alma Cuervo), a graduate student; Rita (Swoozie Kurtz), a writer; and Samantha (Ann McDonough), a conventional housewife. As at most occasions of this type, there is a mixture of excitement and apprehension evident on everyone's part. They break the ice by poking fun at the rituals of North Stimson Hall Milk 'n' Crackers, dinners by candlelight, and lectures from Mrs. Plumm (Josephine Nichols), the house mother who was determined to make them all gracious women.
We flashback to their senior year and dorm life. We meet Leliah (Meryl Streep), a reserved and studious member of their group who is not present at the reunion. We are also introduced to Susie Friend (Cynthia Herman), a straight-arrow type who is the cause of much sarcastic joking by the others, and Carter (Anne Levine), a freshman whose fondest desire is to make a film about the philosopher Wittgenstein.
The "uncommon" women are all trying to define themselves somewhere between the traditionalism of Susie Friend and the weirdness of Carter. Kate is Phi Beta Kappa, terribly efficient and bright. Yet she is unhappy with her ordered life. She needs some passion, some surprises in her future. Her former roommate Leilah, also an excellent student, is tired of living in Kate's shadow. She wants to be seen as her own person apart from comparisons with Kate. Her solution is to work abroad after graduation.
Muffet longs to be an independent woman but at the same time wishes some Prince Charming would come along and whisk her away into security. Rita covers up her uncertainties about who she should be with nonstop banter about sexual liberation. yet secretly she craves what Samantha will gain through marriage to her pinmate. And finally there is Holly who is a bundle of contradictory impulses. She is the whole group writ large. At one point, she notes: "Sometimes I want to clean up my desk and go and say respect me, I'm a respectable grown-up, and other times I just want to jump into a paperback and shake and bake myself to death.
Wendy Wasserstein's play in an exquisite blend of comedy and incisive commentary on what it means to be a young woman today. The cast works together very well as an ensemble unit, and the individual acting is impressive.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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