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LA Theater Review

The Country Wife

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William Wycherley's Restoration comedy must be approached gingerly, with a keen directorial eye, a uniformly talented cast, and above all, a fresh and dynamic take on familiar material. Unfortunately, this production - directed by Richard Tatum, who also adapted the text - has none of these elements.

The problem with any comedy of manners is that it can easily become, well, mannered. Tatum's production falls into this trap, with lots of foppish foolishness and not a lot of humor. Prancing about the stage in various poses is no substitute for well-grounded character development and attention to text. Tatum's actors seemed to have chosen style - often widely varying - over character substance. And judging from the stumbling over lines, there was also precious little attention to the text.

A couple of actors manage to rise above the general mediocrity. Caroline Sharp is a winsome and energetic Mrs. Pinchwife, and Antony Ferguson is stalwart and credible as her husband. Jim Hanna turns in an expectedly excellent performance as the sidekick Dr. Quack but is onstage only briefly. The rest of the actors seem quite lost as to their characters and the text. Though there is certainly a goodly amount of talent on the Ark Theatre stage, Tatum has failed to elicit the performances required for a demanding show like this one.

The challenge of this play - and any farce - is to find the reality of the characters and the situation. This would seem to be any director's first priority in approaching the material. But Tatum has skipped ahead in search of laughs and missed Wycherley's comedy entirely.

Presented by the Ark Theatre Company at the Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
April 17-May 30. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. www.arktheatre.org.

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