by Beki Pineda
THE CONSTANT WIFE – Written by W. Somerset Maugham; Directed by Shelly Butler. Produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company (presented at the Space Theatre, DCPA, Denver) through October 21. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
THE CONSTANT WIFE is a crystal flute of the 1996 Dom Perignon, smooth and sparkling with a distinctive taste that has aged gracefully. Productions at the Denver Center always have a precision about them that speaks to the professionalism of the director, the production team, and the cast. This delightful cream puff of a comedy seems to mix the manners and plot twists of Oscar Wilde with the sizzling dialogue of Noel Coward which has as true a message for today’s audiences as it must have had when first performed in 1926. Director Butler has found the universal truths of the script and created a contemporary sensibility without losing any of the charm of a classic interpretation.
Constance Middleton (Gretchen Egolf) is a wife – while not necessarily happy in her marriage – who seems content with the status quo. Even when the status quo includes knowing that her husband is involved with her “friend.” As she explains to her angry sister, if a woman can eat well, sleep well, and dress well, shouldn’t she be content? It all comes down to the economic situation. She proclaims about herself, “He bought a toy and if he no longer wants to play with it, why should he? He paid for it.” But once she takes control of her own economic situation, the sexual politics takes a turn.
The other characters in the script are not all as enlightened as she. Her sister Martha (Julia Knitel) is outraged and wants to call John, Constance’s husband, out for the cad he is. Her mother (Carol Schultz) holds the old-fashioned belief that you can’t expect a man to be faithful; it’s not in their nature. Her true friend, Barbara (Miriam A. Laube), is content to let Constance make her own decisions and only offers support if she needs it. Her husband John (Robert Mammana) and his paramour, Mary-Louise (Marissa McGowan), ignore each other when in the presence of Constance, pretending they are only friends, but delighting in the duplicity they are pulling off. Constance no longer loves John with any passion, so she feels no one is taking anything she wants. If someone else wants it, so be it. If she expected this all along, there is no reason to feel betrayed or disappointed. All of this makes for delightful word play and shocking revelations for the men in early audiences.
The cast pulls together nicely, making all components work. Gretchen Egolf as Constance is cool without being icy, sympathetic without being maudlin, and positive in her feelings without being overbearing. Carol Schultz is the penultimate English mother, deliberate, consoling and stiff upper lip. As the Barbie doll mistress, Marissa McGowan is all perk and superficial emotions. Rodney Lizcano makes a brief appearance as the boorish Mortimer, the wronged husband of Mary-Louise. With no sense of decorum, he blunders into the situation and upsets the carefully balanced apple cart, causing the entire façade to dissolve. Estes Tarver plays a lovesick ex-suitor of Constance’s who resurfaces just in time to allow her to explore her newfound independence. Wayne Kennedy can take the smallest part – in this case, the butler – and make it into a significant presence. His delivery, his double-takes, and his secret trips to the piano add a Puckish quality to the character.
The costumes designed by Sara Ryung Clement are gorgeous, making the ladies in the audience long for the old days of frills and flow. They were very flattering to all the actresses while being authentic and colorful. The Space Theatre being in the round does not allow for much in the way of a formal set, but Takeshi Kata’s collection and arrangement of furniture pieces with a baby grand piano prominently featured were understated and complementary to the action of the script.
A WOW factor of 8.75!