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The Constant Couple

Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

John Pasha, Robin Leslie Brown, and Rachel Botchan.
Although wile and guile were fashionable during the 18th century in London, integrity and honor were doing their best to break through as the new, untested trend. George Farquhar examines the overlapping of the rages with The Constant Couple, a comedy penned in 1699. And what better way to illustrate what was in vogue long ago than to use a captivating, desirable woman as the focal point? Since women are reputed to know stylish and reputed to know trickery, the marriage between the two in Lady Lurewell (Rachel Botchan) works out fabulously, and to complete Farquhar's intent, hilariously.

Lady Lurewell is a woman of many tempers and talents. Simply put, she is hell bent on exacting revenge on the cheating, philandering, thoughtless sex. Playing every bit the mouthy though virtuous gentlewoman in the presence of her foes, Lurewell plots and plans for their ridicule and gentle undoing with Parly (Robin Leslie Brown), her cohort and maid. Spurned by a nameless, faceless love some time ago, Lurewell has decided to declare war on all of her potential suitors, both the probable and the highly unlikely. In fact, she considers almost all men within her axis, including the ones that don't have a design on her. The primary contenders are the disbanded Colonel Standard (a lackluster John Pasha), the rich traveler Sir Harry Wildair (Bradford Cover), and the wolf in sheep's clothing, Vizard (David L. Townsend). Others such as Alderman Smuggler (Dominic Cuskern), a mature, unscrupulous and sleazy merchant, are slightly more blatant with their horizontal desires and fit into the highly unlikely category.

By the time Standard saunters into St. James Park searching for his lady love, Vizard is already in the middle of courting his. Having recently been rebuffed by her via letter, he is livid but not discouraged in his pursuit. Wildair joins in later upon returning from his recent travels. They all have similar news to share: a beautiful woman that they each swear is unique and above all women has stirred their hearts and loins. By description and comedic strategy, one can easily discern that they are all referring to Lady Lurewell. Vizard, however, has every intention of foiling their attempts. To distract Wildair from his conquest and to initiate the deceptions of the play, Vizard sends him to much easier prey: Angelica (Jolly Abraham), a beautiful 16-year old courtesan in town. Preceded by a letter of introduction from Vizard, Wildair is more than willing to shell out as much as 100 guineas to satisfy his lust, particularly since Lurewell won't loosen her corset anytime soon. But instead of a willing bedmate, he finds Angelica to be haughtier and more bashful than the "game" allows. After several witty and flirtatious exchanges and scenes, Wildair learns that Angelica is an honorable lady, but his repeated affronts to her have lasting consequences. From henceforward, the baton of deceit is passed off from one character to the next, with Lurewell running several legs around the track.

With a multicultural cast and contemporary inventions, The Pearl Theatre Company takes quite a few liberties with the original text of The Constant Couple. However, the newer vision is also fresh, light, and compatible with its light overtones. One of the more modern choices include the method by which Tom Errand (Orville Mendoza) gets around the stage: he glides around on those roller sneakers that by now have probably gotten on your nerves more than once on the street, but here they elicit a smile and a chuckle. Another is Lurewell's display of paintings onstage of the various men that she plays like pawns. Not only is it improbable for her to have the likeness of all of these men because there's no justification for it, but it is also impossible in the 18th century for her to have access to the art. After all, paintings are still not as accessible as photographs, and even with the achievement of the first photographic image in 1814 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce, Lurewell wouldn't even be able to get those. They do, however, do a good job of depicting her arrogance. But too good of a job. Botchan's portrayal of Lurewell is so bold that one must wonder, apart from her virginity, why she is so sought after at all? Although Botchan plays the part with a wonderful twinkle in her eye and a command of her scenes, she has no expected docility to accompany the virginity of the Restoration era, the docility that still enraptures men today. One would think that deflowering a virtuous woman back then would be challenging enough without the added attitude.

The scenic design by Harry Feiner is appropriately simple, with a carefully constructed wooden set that acts as a nice backdrop against Liz Covey's lavish costumes. Although the musical interludes that conclude some of the scenes are peculiar, they do add to the levity of the play and are a means of foreshadowing much like a Greek chorus. The fiddle and what I believe to be either a harpsichord or a Bosendorfer piano are nice touches. As a collective, the cast is delightful and funny, and demonstrate their comfort with the classics with grace and airs.

Eventually, the web of lies that comprise The Constant Couple do get untangled, but the journey to clarity and truth is full of entertainment and merriment along the way. At 2.5 hours, there's enough witty banter, lively characters, sauciness and hope for the lovelorn to make this production well-rounded and worthy to be seen.

The Constant Couple
Through December 23
Pearl Theatre Company, 80 St Marks Place (eastern extension of 8th Street) between First and Second Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Pearl Theatre Company

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