Constance Middleton is a thoroughly modern woman who maintains the happy fiction that her husband is not having an affair with her best friend. In fact, when confronted with the age-old double standard – that men can’t help their infidelities, but an unfaithful wife is an abomination – she’s coolly philosophical. Constance chalks it up to economic inequality – men feel entitled to their mistresses and occasional affairs because they still maintain their wives in the expected state of elegance. As long as wives are indebted to their husbands for room and board, jewelry and gowns, they have no grounds for complaint. Constance concludes that true freedom for women – sexual freedom – requires economic freedom.
If this sounds like something from the Women’s Lib movement of the ‘60s, think again.
William Somerset Maugham created the character of Constance Middleton more than 80 years ago for his progressive, somewhat shocking comedy of manners, “The Constant Wife.” Set in 1920’s London, it explores the strict codes of polite society, and how they began to be challenged after "The Great War." But societal mores in flux seems to be an ever-relevant theme.
This timeless comedy and its timely message come courtesy of Meadow Brook Theatre’s newest production, which opened in preview on March 20 and officially begins on Saturday, March 23.
“We focus on Michigan premieres at Meadow Brook,” said Cheryl Marshall, MBT managing director. “When we discovered that no professional theatre here had presented ‘The Constant Wife,’ we jumped at the chance. It’s so contemporary in its ideas, that you forget it was written in the 1920's.”
“The Constant Wife” is directed by Karen Sheridan, Oakland University professor of theatre. MBT audiences will recall seeing Sheridan onstage as Bertha the maid, in MBT’s 2010 production of “Boeing- Boeing.”
With this production, Sheridan holds the cast faithful to the period and the cool detachment with which the dialog is exchanged. Punch lines are dropped politely, like sugar cubes into teacups, and the physical humor is, for the most part, restricted to modest gesturing and disapproving glances. Fortunately, Maugham is brilliant at dialog, and this play is rich with the kind of satisfying laughter that leaves one feeling intellectually superior. It’s all so darned clever.
Cheryl Turski plays Constance Middleton, the wise “constant” wife, with graceful restraint. Chip DuFord is terrific as her puffed-up, unfaithful husband, John. Stephen Blackwell is comically sympathetic as Bernard, the man who has loved Constance from afar for over 15 years. The strong supporting cast also includes Dominique Lowell, Michael Gillespie, Allison Schubert, Melynee Saunders Warren, Leslie Ann Handelman and Glen Allen Pruett.
The sumptuous set design is by Jen Price Fick and the wonderful period costumes are designed by Liz Moore. Terry W. Carpenter is the stage manager with lighting by Reid G. Johnson and sound by Mike Duncan.
This is a lovely production of a timeless classic, and not to be missed. “The Constant Wife” runs through April 14 at Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. Performances take place Wednesdays through Sundays with a variety of afternoon and evening show times, so check the MBT website for options.
Tickets range from $25 to $40 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Ticketmaster. Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.