Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« A Thousand Circlets | Main | Mrs. Mannerly »

The Constant Wife

Historically, a woman’s rightful place in the world was invariably with her husband; only very recently have these attitudes and social mores begun to evolve. W. Somerset Maugham’s early-20th-century play The Constant Wife is a groundbreaking treatise on what happens when a woman’s obligations to herself diverge from her wifely responsibilities, with themes and arguments that resonate to this day. In Meadow Brook Theatre’s production, director Karen Sheridan stretches social graces to the limit and poses questions of duty, fidelity, double standards, and liberation, all on the strength of comic brightness and a lead performance that dazzles.

The name on everyone’s lips is “Constance” (Cheryl Turski), an upstanding wife and mother unwittingly made the object of gossip by her philandering physician husband, John (Chip DuFord), and dear friend Marie-Louise (Leslie Ann Handelman). Not only does everyone in her family and social circle know about the ongoing infidelity, each has a distinct and justifiable opinion about the group’s collective shielding of the sunny, self-possessed, and none the wiser Constance. But a scenario that begins with philosophical rumination on whose business it is, and whether ignorance is bliss, gains comic potential with the fond return of a long-ago suitor (Stephen Blackwell). Here, in the flesh and quick to confess his unceasing love, is a tantalizing reminder that turnabout is fair play. In tension-rife interactions akin to balancing a hand over an open flame, it becomes increasingly, consistently clear that whatever she knows, by what means she discovers, or however she reacts, the ball is very much in Constance’s court.

The story of the wronged wife is an old one, but women of previous generations had little or no recourse. Thus, in the world of 1929 London, in which the play is set, such potential empowerment and options for self-actualization are nascent and pioneering ideas indeed. The setting is an important point of context, but also an opportunity for the design team to have a field day with period finery in the form of carefully piled-on patterns and detailing. Set designer Jen Price Fick sprawls the action across the trendy expanse of John and Constance’s massive parlor, whose conspicuously matchy blues are given as much attention as costume designer Liz Moore expends on a fastidiously accessorized drop-waist vintage paradise. The leisure and comfort that accompanies sticking with one’s husband is subtly reinforced by poured-in natural light (by Reid G. Johnson) that fades to dusk with glacial ease; in keeping with classy chamber selections blended with boozy jazz abandon (courtesy of sound designer Mike Duncan), strife never enters this sumptuous yet progressive picture. Against this backdrop, Turski brings clarity to Constance’s thoughtful philosophy and supreme pragmatism, expounding on what a wife owes to — and is owed by — her marriage, her provider, and herself with perfect diplomacy and control.

Yet even in the societal intrigue of this resonant political-parlor hybrid, there is plenty of messy comedy to be mined in these sloppy lives, and Sheridan finds the bulk of it in the space between spoken lines. Lavish attention has been paid to physicalizing anticipation and reaction, particularly in the peanut gallery of women closest to Constance: a peevishly righteous sister (Allison Schubert), an acrobatically excusing mother (Dominique Lowell), and a practical businesswoman with helping hand extended (Melynee Saunders Warren). In stark contrast to the ladies’ furtiveness is Blackwell’s hilariously agitated anti-stealth, the cherry atop a candid performance that excels in generating negative as well as positive chemistry. Similarly, when confronted, Handelman and DuFord degenerate into squirming fits of analytical spinelessness and convivial apoplexy that far outstrip their banally titillated concealment. Revolving exchanges and scenarios combine into a calliope of politeness, manners, and social comportment, with the occasional powder-keg catalyst offset by Turski, who sails above the fray in a performance befitting the rationality and strength of this fascinating character.

Condensing a three-act structure into two asymmetric halves, this Constant Wife doesn’t feel all of its 2 hours and 20 minutes. The production takes a conundrum very much of its time and uses outsider uncertainty to make it feel enduring, and nonverbal abundance to make it fly. Ultimately, however, this is a play that requires a champion at its center, and this show has found one in Turski, whose delivery of comeuppance comes with finesse and no shortage of satisfaction.

The Constant Wife is no longer playing.
For the latest from Meadow Brook Theatre, click here.