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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 30, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 13
The Country Wife has much to say about class, rank and morality
Arts & Entertainment
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The Country Wife has much to say about class, rank and morality

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

THEATER SCHMEATER
Through April 14


In this tale of a naïve wife falling for a man pretending to be a eunuch, The Country Wife observes how a husband's power dynamic can be completely upended. This adaptation, re-imagined by writer Rachel Atkins, is based on the bawdy William Wycherly play written during the Restoration period (when the English monarchy was restored and hence a new age for arts and literature was established). It is directed by Elizabeth Wu and presented at Theater Schmeater.

This version is set in the 18th century, but uses modern hints like portable CD players, romantic paperbacks, and tablets to connect it to today, which seemed more like distractions to me than a creative device. Atkins' version also stripped away some of the outright offensive misogynistic dialog of the original. It should be noted that the original was quite controversial in its day on the subject of sex, misaligned marriages, and sexually astute women, but it was a satire of its time. This comedy of blunders style was quite remarkable for that age, which is why it is considered a very 'British' drama literary classic. Atkins' version certainly maintains the comedic tones, but it does miss a few beats due to some awkward staging and sluggish pacing.

As Margery, Shermona Mitchell illuminates the stage. Mitchell's presence as the beaming and hopeful woman seeking her own place in society is a sheer pleasure to watch. As the rakish rogue Horner, Nicholas Bernard expertly depicts the character with an assured sly and sexy strut. He pretends impotency to make moves on upper class ladies like Margery and a slew of other women.

While incognito, Margery falls for Horner, but her boorish husband, hysterically named Pinchwife, portrayed by Laurence Hughes, now wants even more dominance over her to the point of forcing her with a knife to write Horner some hate mail which she turns around on Pinchwife in a satisfying twist of comeuppance. All the while, the blithe Alithea (a lovely Danela Butler) saunters around with her dense suitor Sparkish (played by Bunthay Cheam filling in for another actor) while Harcourt (played by a refreshing Nabilah S. Ahmed) makes every sweet attempt to get Alithea into his good graces. Phew, it's 'like sands through an hourglass.'

The other five acting talents sufficiently round out the story as comic and plot filler, but fail to leave as lasting an impression as the dynamic work of the Mitchell and Bernard team does. There are pockets of gem moments here and there including the 'showing of the fine china' joke in the latter part of the play.

The rapid pace of the dialog from the large troupe tends to outshine the original themes of Wycherley. The deceit and hypocrisy and even the hypocrisy of deceit is depicted in a restrained manner and is, therefore, blunted for the audience. The antiheros are the heroes of the show and I wish that was emphasized more in this version. Wu's loose direction nearly unravels the production if not for the strength of the source material itself. To Wu's credit, it is tough stuff to reclaim, and brave to approach it in the first place.

Once The Country Wife regains its momentum, it all comes together, realizes its potential and is relevant and entertaining. This especially happens when the entire ensemble comes together with full comic effect. The misunderstandings are hilariously understood and the disguises are humorously revealed. Despite some wobbly staging and an uneven flow, the final rally at the end tidies it all up to make a satisfactory production because of what it does have to say about class, rank and morality.

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