The Asolo’s The Constant Wife offers some sharp amusement at marriage’s expense.
By Kay Kipling
The Asolo Repertory Theatre has long had a reputation for being especially good at period costume dramas and drawing-room comedies of manners. So it’s no surprise that its current production in rotating rep, W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife, is elegantly turned out, with all the production values—smashing set by Eric Flatmo, stylish togs by costume designer Katherine Roth—firmly in place.
What might be surprising once you stop just looking at the piece (which debuted 80 years ago) and start listening to it is how cynical—or perhaps just realistic—Maugham’s take on upper middle class mores and marriage is. The plot revolves around happily married Constance Middleton (Dana Green), whose conventional mother (Carolyn Michel) and busybody sister (Jessi Blue Gormezano) have differing opinions on whether or not to inform Constance of the infidelity of husband John (Bryan Torfeh) with good friend Marie-Louise (Julie Lachance). Mother believes not; after all, Constance “sleeps well, eats well and dresses well, and she’s losing weight. No woman can be unhappy in those circumstances.”
John G. Preston, Bryan Torfeh and Dana Green in the Asolo Rep’s The Constant Wife.
Sister, on the other hand, feels it her duty to inform Constance of the truth. Friend Barbara (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris) merely wants to lend a helping hand if Constance should find herself in need of a separate income. And Constance’s old boyfriend Bernard (John G. Preston) just might have some comfort to give as well.
The setup of the first 90 minutes of the show leads to the climactic moment when John’s affair is revealed, thanks to the sudden appearance of cuckolded Mortimer (Douglas Jones). But—surprise, surprise—turns out Constance knew all along. And, in her eminently practical way, she saw no need to upset the apple cart of her comfortable and cheerful existence. What happens later, when Constance decides her future path, may have been shocking in 1927; it still holds a little thrill for us today—as well as an opportunity for self-examination.
The cast, well directed by Mark Rucker, is smartly up to the task of delivering Maugham’s boatload of clever lines with the type of British 1920s flair required. (It’s a bit jarring to the group dynamic to see young Lachance, an FSU/Asolo Conservatory student, paired with the older Jones, though.) Dana Green is thoroughly in charge in the wonderfully written role of Constance, confidently dealing with the other characters’ demands at every turn (a minor irritation is the too frequent clasping of her hands in front of her). And Torfeh and Michel also skate across this ultra-sophisticated and dialogue-packed world with ease.
The Constant Wife continues in rep through March 12; call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org for tickets.