Published January 29, 2018 –
Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre continues its season of comedies with a splendid production of W. Somerset Maugham’s THE CONSTANT WIFE. In lesser hands the story of a wife who appears to turn a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities could come across as a dreadfully dated and unbelievable drawing room comedy of 1926. This period in theatrical history allowed love to be proclaimed to the mountains, despite who was in earshot -where a woman’s place was in the home, lest it be thought that her husband was unable to provide for her- where rest cures in far off countries were the panacea to every ailment- and where propriety was tantamount.
Director David Oliver, whose fine direction includes ICTC’s triumph EQUUS, lets the work unfold without letting it run the risk of becoming a melodramatic museum piece. The stock characters are all there– the apparent innocent wife, a philandering husband, the perky other woman, the unsympathetic mother-in-law, the acerbic sister, and a head over heels in love former boyfriend. They all encircle the constant wife, aptly named Constance, who must decide how to cope with the lot in life that she has been dealt. Similarities abound to Clare Boothe Luce’s 1936 play THE WOMEN, where a bevy of women all have their own ideas on how to deal with a man’s infidelities.
ICTC favorite Kate LoConti revels in the juicy role of Constance and is a joy to watch. Her coyness and quick thinking wit are reminiscent of the plucky roles inhabited by a young, no nonsense Katherine Hepburn. What at first comes off as a naive scorned wife morphs through Constance’s own brilliant calculations to a wife who is in complete control of her difficult situation. LoConti’s comfort in the role is palpable, as she laughs, struts and ultimately declares that her own sexual freedom is paramount and the double standard applied to the sexes is something she is not prepared to accept.
Surrounded by her family at the most inopportune times allows comic bon mots to spew from Josephine Hogan as her mother, Mrs. Culver. Born in the Victorian era, she is willing to accept male infidelities as commonplace as long as the woman is well cared for and well dressed. Ms. Hogan is having a grand time, lounging about, eating chocolates and proclaiming ” I have my own ideas about marriage. If a man neglects his wife it’s her own fault, and if he’s systematically unfaithful to her in nine cases out of ten she only has herself to blame.”
Meanwhile younger sister Martha (played by the spunky Kristin Bentley) seethes watching her sister being played the fool. Ms. Bentley more than holds her own and dominates scenes were she extols how a “modern woman” should be handling Constance’s situation.
Kelsey Mogensen is utterly charming as the dumb blonde other woman, Marie-Louise. Maugham’s twist here is that she also is Constance’s best friend. When LoConti and Mogensen are paired there is so much cleverness in the the writing that the comedy in their plight is sublime. Meanwhile Eric Michael Rawski, as the husband Dr. John Middleton, plays the cheater with broad brush strokes that sometimes border on camp. His facial expressions and incredulity are often scene stealing as the details of his affair are made public.
The company is rounded out with the the charming Kristen Tripp Kelley as Constance’s friend Barbara who empowers her to join the work force. Jon May does well as the simpering love struck former boyfriend Bernard, while Elliot Fox plays against type and elicits great laughs as Marie-Louise’s suspicious husband, Mortimer.
Set designer David Dwyer has chosen lovely pieces of furniture to evoke the period, complemented by fine background musical choices. Unfortunately, not every detail has been given such care. Ms. LoConti’s entrance costume and hair bordered on disastrous, as she wore a faded ill fitting dress, little make up and badly styled hair. As the titular character, whose glamorous appearance is commented upon in the script, she deserved better, and given the fine acting and other high production values it is time for ICTC to beef up their resources. Period pieces call for period fashions and given the audience’s close proximity to the actors, such details do not go unnoticed.
It’s not often that we get to see plays from the early 20th century play out as comically convincing as this production of THE CONSTANT WIFE. Under Mr. Oliver’s thoughtful direction Constance takes her unfortunate “me too” predicament and triumphs as she has the last laugh.
THE CONSTANT WIFE plays at Buffalo’s Irish Classical Theatre through February 11, 2018. Contact irishclassical.com for more information.