Theatre Review: ‘The Constant Wife’ at Irish Classical Theatre

The cast of “The Constant Wife” at Irish Classical Theatre. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Back in 1926 – when women’s suffrage was a recent memory in the UK as well as the US –  there was Constance Middleton. Strong, savvy, sly, and she’s “The Constant Wife”  in W. Somerset Maugham’s comedy of manners presented now through February 11  at the Irish Classical Theatre Company.

. . .Maugham may have penned this “The Constant Wife” nearly a century ago, but the message and inspiration are more relevant today than ever:  strong women aren’t fooled by weak men.

Constance, beautifully portrayed by Kate LoConti, has it all: a lovely home, a place in society, a doctor for a husband, one pragmatic friend, one perky friend, and a mother and younger sister who are there to keep her grounded and alert…or at least that’s what they think. She also has – gasp! – a philandering husband. And the object of his affection is – gasp encore! – her perky friend. Even more delicious is the attention of a long-ago suitor who arrives on her doorstep at a propitious moment.

What unfolds is a funny and  (strangely, wonderfully) empowering evening as Constance surprises everyone but herself as she charts brave new paths through old society. There’s plenty of smart banter, sassy wit, and twisted social mores here. All good.

LoConti as Constance is grand: she’s strong and determined and elegant. Josephine Hogan is her mother Mrs. Culver who –not unlike women of her generation – accepts that yes, men do stray.  And women are meant to tolerate it as the natural course. Even her definition of true love (“could you use his toothbrush?”) brings a shudder.

Younger sister Martha is indignant with all this, and wants to inform her sister. Kristin Bentley plays this to the hilt: she’s outraged with a current of comeuppance underneath it. Bentley as Martha is solid, if a bit twitchy, as she tries to understand her mother’s tolerance and her sister’s cool grace with all this. ICTC mainstay Kristen Tripp Kelley is the pragmatic friend, Barbara, owner of a successful interior design company who offers Constance work, wisely knowing that financial independence is the one thing Constance’s marriage can’t buy.

It’s Kelsey Mogensen as Marie-Louise Durham, the “greatest friend” and other woman, who is all fresh charm and appeal. She dazzles as the younger woman, with bobbed bouncy curls, shorter flouncy dresses, and a chirpy delight in life’s little secrets. Even her despair at being found out is exuberant and a joy to watch.

In his first appearance on this stage, Jon May is irresistible as the suave and debonair old beau Bernard.  Does Constance love him or is she merely relieved to know another man finds her appealing? Eric Michael Rawski lies and harrumphs his way along as two-timing Dr. Middleton in fine stoic style. Elliot Fox is a stitch as wronged husband Moritmer: he appears on stage all hellfire and brimstone, swiftly bowing to Constance’s insistence that he just can’t be right in his assessment.

David Dwyer’s sparse set depicts the Middleton’s stately home perfectly: I loved the ironically empty picture frames that suggest the presence of walls, and the changing vases of flowers that tick down the passage of time.

Maugham may have penned this “The Constant Wife” nearly a century ago, but the message and inspiration are more relevant today than ever:  strong women aren’t fooled by weak men.  “There is only one freedom that’s important, and it’s economic freedom,” Constance learns. Between the lines, there’s plenty of hearty laughs here, too.

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 10-Minute intermission.

“The Constant Wife” runs until February 11, 2018 at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.