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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Constant Wife

The Constant Wife
John Wojda, Julie-Ann Elliott
and Michael McKenzie

Director John Going has created a fine, polished ensemble for the Olney Theatre Center's sparkling production of W. Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife. While Maugham's 1927 play falls into the category of "drawing-room comedy," which implies frivolity and little substance, he raises issues that remain surprisingly contemporary.

In a beautifully appointed, utterly tasteful room designed by James Wolk, the audience observes the marital intrigues of Constance Middleton (Julie-Ann Elliott), married for 15 years to John (Michael McKenzie), a successful surgeon. Everyone around Constance knows that John is cheating on her with her best friend, silly flapper Marie-Louise Durham (Ashley West), but no one knows quite how to tell her.

Constance's mother (Nancy Robinette) is a firm believer in the double standard: Of course a husband will have affairs, but it is the responsibility of the wife to ignore them and keep the family together. (She also notes that, in her opinion, "Decency died with dear Queen Victoria.") Martha (Allyson Currin), Constance's abrasive younger sister, thinks only a public confrontation will bring catharsis. A widowed friend, Barbara Fawcett (Helen Hedman), offers Constance a lifeline: employment as an interior designer.

Through all of this, what does Constance want? She accepts that the first flush of love fades in a marriage, but that love or sex, or fidelity should not be the only basis of a male-female partnership. When a former suitor (John Wojda) offers her his love, she lets him know that she doesn't want to trade one man for another; she seeks financial independence, which will allow her the freedom to choose a man for emotional rather than monetary reasons. The sad thing is that, even today, some people are still uneasy about married women having the opportunity to support themselves rather than having to depend on their husbands.

The language glitters, and Going once again demonstrates his understanding of the depths hiding in supposedly shallow comedy. Elliott is beautifully self-possessed as Constance, a woman not ashamed of her age (36) and strong enough to stand on her own. Robinette gives another jewel-like performance, serenely sure of herself and dealing with uncomfortable realities by ignoring them. James Slaughter has a delightful cameo as Marie-Louise's harrumphing husband.

Liz Covey's costumes stand out vividly against the neutral tones of Wolk's set. Not only are the women's outfits attractive and appropriate, they also offer subtle characterization: Constance wears fluttery dresses in the first two acts, but her look becomes more tailored in the third.

Olney Theatre Center
The Constant Wife
February 14th March 11th
By W. Somerset Maugham
Mrs. Culver: Nancy Robinette
Bentley: Bob Barr
Martha Culver: Allyson Currin
Barbara Fawcett: Helen Hedman
Constance Middleton: Julie-Ann Elliott
Marie-Louise Durham: Ashley West
John Middleton, F.R.C.S.: Michael McKenzie
Bernard Kersal: John Wojda
Mortimer Durham: James Slaughter
Directed by John Going
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org


Photo: Jaya Prasad


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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