William Wycherley’s 1675 play The Country Wife does not fit most people’s idea of a typical Restoration comedy. At the time, it would have been the equivalent of a Rob Schneider movie in the sheer volume of its tasteless jokes and sexual innuendoes. Many plays at the time, including his, were denounced for (as Collier put it) "their smuttiness of Expression," "their Swearing, Profaneness, and Lewd Application of Scripture," "their Abuse of the Clergy," and "their making their top Characters Libertines, and giving them success in their Debauchery." Sounds like a good way to spend a Saturday night.
But this production of The Country Wife, by Love Creek Productions, was not a good way to spend a Saturday night. In the play, Horner, an 18th-century frat boy, spreads a rumor about London that he’s a eunuch, so that society husbands will trust him in the presence of their wives. With new freedom, he seduces the ladies with gusto (who know his "secret" is a lie). Pinchwife, a sour gentleman, has a pretty new wife from the country, and Horner decides to seduce the innocent new wife out from under Pinchwife’s nose—and so he does, in time. But first, his friend Sparkish’s new fiancée falls for a third friend, Harcourt; she believes that Sparkish’s lack of jealousy is a sign of his high regard for her, but she finds out it is really a sign of his over-inflated male ego. As Shakespeare would put it, "hilarity ensues."
The play is bawdy, innuendo-laden, and thick with intrigues, with a multitude of characters and subplots that viciously satirized the morals and hypocrisy of the time. Love Creek Productions, however, managed to make what should have been a light and comical play into a stilted, affected exercise in dreariness; even the most blatantly sexual jokes stumbled and fell flat. Jesse Shaffer as Horner, Ryan Victor Pierce as his friend Sparkish, and Kelly Warne as Margery Pinchwife gave nimble performances, but the rest of the large cast (which included Gregg David Shore, Barry Pomerantz, Joanie Schumacher, Ellen Reif, Al Smith, Geoff Partel, Jon Oak, Sharan Edrei, Cecelia Frontero, Kirsten Walsh, Ann Parker, and Julie Turner) seemed uncomfortable in their costumes and wigs, and worse, unfamiliar with the language. Le Wilhelm’s direction was cramped and unimaginative, and the pace dragged.
The space was small, perhaps too small for such a large cast, but the company made excellent use of what they had to work with. The set was minimal but suggestive, using painted walls and a few period furniture pieces to serve for all. It’s amazing what can be done with one round table, two chairs, and a settee. The costumes were very colorful, if ill-fitting. The ladies’ dresses didn’t seem quite long enough, and didn’t hang off the large bustles properly. Many of the men’s shoes and jackets were too large, as well. The wigs, however, were definitely ill-fitting, threatening to fall off the heads of the actors at any moment; one (a foot tall) very nearly did, though the actress in question recovered nicely. But the costumes, wigs, and fans were historically accurate and varied; though they didn’t fit, they were at least visually appealing, and didn’t clash with the simple and efficient lighting.
It’s a shame, too; Wycherley’s play is a classic, and despite the archaic vocabulary and syntax, it can be a witty and amusing treat. But this production, unfortunately, was neither witty nor amusing.
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Copyright 2002 Jenny Sandman