Pheonix Vaughn and Corey Tazmania star in the Ensemble Theatre Co.'s The Housewives of Mannheim.

Pheonix Vaughn and Corey Tazmania star in the Ensemble Theatre Co.‘s The Housewives of Mannheim. (New Jersey Repertory Co. photo)

The Ensemble Theatre Co. starts it 2010-11 season with the West Coast premiere of Alan Brody’s new play, The Housewives of Mannheim, starring — or, rather, since the ensemble takes its name seriously, with — Pheonix Vaughn, Corey Tazmania, Wendy Peace and Natalie Mosco.

Billed as “a memory play set in Brooklyn during the Second World War,” Housewives is directed by SuzAnne Barabas, the artist who directed the world premiere at the New Jersey Repertory Co. It will play Oct. 7-31 at the Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara St. in Santa Barbara.

Set in the kitchen of a Brooklyn brownstone in 1944, Housewives tells the story of three young married women coping with the disruptions of wartime and raising their young children while their husbands are at war.

Sophie, a beautiful and sophisticated Jewish Austrian émigré, moves into their building, becomes their friend and ultimately presents them with a challenge for which their uncomplicated, circumscribed lives have not prepared them. The Housewives of Mannheim is presented as a comedy, but one can scarcely forget how often such stories turn out tragically. Self-discovery can cut either way.

In the otherwise flawed film of Nicholas and Alexandra, there was a splendid scene inside the Tsarist General Staff headquarters as the mobilization order was given that launched World War I. As the generals and colonels are dancing jigs, slapping one another on the back and generally whooping it up at the outbreak of a shooting war, the one civilian minister present looks around with a glum face and says, “Which of us will still be in this room when this war ends?” (The short answer is none.)

War brings changes on every level of society. It is a major reshuffling of the pack. Ironically, though, it is men who are supposed to favor war, and it is usually women who benefit from the changes it brings — changes such as those we shall witness in The Housewives of Mannheim.

The Housewives of Mannheim plays at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. For tickets, call the box office at 805.965.5400 or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at