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The Constant Wife

Deliciously droll and clearly from another, less strident, time, Somerset Maugham's 1920s examination of upper-class English sophisticates is extremely well-mounted in director Bruce Gray's skillfully paced offering. In what was considered a groundbreaking feminist play, Maugham scrutinized the seeming double standard of fidelity in marriage.

Constance Middleton (Ann Hearn) is the wife of prominent surgeon John (Richard Hoyt Miller), and, judging by her drawing room, is affluent and well taken care of. As she enters from a shopping trip, she is greeted by her mother (Mary Gregory), her spinster sister (Jackie Maruschak), and her friend and interior decorator Barbara (Kathrine Bates). A discussion concerning whether to tell Constance about John's extramarital affair with her best friend, Marie-Louise (Gina Torrecilla), is halted, and, though a few hints are dropped, Constance deflects them. When she is finally forced to confront her husband, she is sanguine about the situation, opining that she is merely a decorative appendage, and that they fell out of love at precisely the same time. He makes the money; he has a right to do as he chooses. She decides to take up an offer to join the independent Barbara in the decorating business. When she has earned enough to be independent, she leaves John for a time to embark on a journey to Italy with a longtime suitor (Gordon Thomson).

Hearn is splendid as the witty and intelligent wife whose subtle revenge is calculated. Gregory is also excellent as a representative of an older generation of women whose husbands' peccadilloes were overlooked in favor of a comfortable status in society. Maruschak fairly quivers with outrage and caustic dismay about the situation, and Torrecilla is amusing as the frivolous butterfly.

The males in the play comport themselves well as counterpoints to the intriguing, rather progressive, subject matter. A fine job in a minor role is executed by Wayne Thomas Yorke as the butler. His ubiquitous presence and deferential obeisance is classic. Elizabeth Huffman's elegant costumes and Jeff G. Rack's handsome set establish the tone for a well-directed, well-acted charmer. Dialogues about affairs of the sexes still continue today, making this a markedly modern piece.

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