Tonight was the OutOfThe BoxTheatre’s resplendent premiere of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife. As the audience settled in for this two-act version of the original play, roaring 20’s music filled the air, drawing listeners into the era. Songs included Runnin’ Wild performed by Miss Patricola and the Virginians and Gus Kahn’s Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Be In Carolina in The Morning, both from 1922. Just before the live-action, Cary Grant played and sang Boyd Atkins’s Heebee Jeebies at the piano, a song famously recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1926. He was to expertly perform several other selections that well summarized preceding dramatic segments.
The magnificently costumed cast began this evening of comical, witty, and sophisticated banter in a glamorous drawing room setting. From the onset, listeners were drawn into a mesmerizing plot of well-crafted characters. The company frolicked while gliding through hypocritical attitudes and gender roles prevalent in early 20th-century society.
In the following segment from the first scene, our heroine’s younger sister Martha (Elizabeth Hayden) is discussing with her mother, Mrs. Culver (Darrie Lawrence), how John (Grant Machan), Constance’s (Jenny Tucker) husband, is carrying on an illicit affair with Marie-Louise Durham (Vanessa Shaw).
Martha: She ought to know the truth because it is the truth.
Mrs. Culver: Of course, the truth is an excellent thing, but before one tells it, one should be quite sure that one does so for the advantage of the person who hears it rather than for one’s own self-satisfaction.
Martha: Mother, Constance is a very unhappy person.
Mrs. Culver: Nonsense. She eats well, she sleeps well, dresses well, and she’s losing weight. No woman can be unhappy in those circumstances.
Thematic Oxymoron of Tenebrious Delights
A satiric comedy, themes explored in The Constant Wife emanated from W. Somerset Maugham’s encounter with an old school friend who described his wife’s infidelity with seeming indifference. The troupe imaginatively and humorously explored Maugham’s themes. They reveled in this thematic oxymoron of tenebrious delights. The device works if it’s done right. Shakespeare liked it: from Romeo and Juliet, “Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!”
Financial Independence and Dignity
Our heroine and lead character, Constance Middleton (Jennie Tucker), exhibited a striking difference from what one might expect from a woman aware of her husband’s extramarital shenanigans. Constance even helps John’s married paramour, Marie-Louise, to place her husband, Mortimer Durham (Roumel Reaux), on the defensive when he accuses his wife of hanky-panky with John. Constance acted deliberately and calmly in the situation and shrewdly used her intelligence and wit to maintain her financial independence and dignity.
We later discover that Constance was aware of the affair from its onset. She says to John, “Oh, my dear, you musn’t be offended just because I’ve taken away from you the satisfaction of thinking that you have been deceiving me all these months.”
Double Standards and Quotables
Here are samples of double standards and quotables infused into the narrative by Maugham.
Our heroine Constance notes, “A man thinks it quite natural that he should fall out of love with a woman, but it never strikes him for a moment that a woman can do anything so unnatural as to fall out of love with him.”
Constance to Marie-Louise Durham, “You take everything from your husband and give him nothing that he pays for. You are no better than a vulgar cheat… I think you a liar, a humbug, and a parasite… but I like you.
A Brute and a Beast
When confronted with his adulterous adventures, John grumbles, “Women are funny. When they’ve tired of you, they tell you so without a moment’s hesitation, and if you don’t like it, you can lump it. But if you’re tired of them, you’re a brute and a beast, and boiling oil’s too good for you. Ultimately, Constance elegantly turns the tables on her dissolute husband when she takes a well-paying job and finally heads out of town for a six-week romp with Bernard Kersal (Nick Denning).
The Constant Wife was charming, fun, witty, droll, elegant, and deserving of the full house and extended ovations.
Runtime 150 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission
The show runs through November 5.
The Constant Wife
By W. Somerset Maugham
Cast of The Constant Wife (in order of appearance)
Darrie Lawrence as Mrs. Culver
Cary Gant as Bentley
Elizabeth Hayden as Martha Culver
Gloria Sauvé as Barbara Fawcett
Jenny Tucker as Constance Middleton
Vanessa Shaw as Marie-Louise Durham
Grant Machan as John Middleton
Nick Denning as Bernard Kersal
Roumel Reaux as Mortimer Durham
Jeffery V. Thompson, Director
Halina Malinowski, Producer
Susan Case, Co-Producer
Harlan D. Penn, Scenic Designer
Katherine Roberson, Costume Designer
Stephen Cornelius, Lighting Designer
Cary Grant, Music Director
Harrison H. Harper, Stage Manager
Sanath Wijeratne, Properties Manager
Bob Johnson, Poster and Program Art Design
Ziti Timms and Kelly Gilmore, Wardrobe
Errol Adams and Malique Dennis, Stagehands
Bernie Wohl Center
647 Columbus Avenue
Between 91st & 92nd Street
New York, NY 10025
For tickets and information, go to https://www.outoftheboxtheatre.com/