Deeper dive: A closer look at ‘The Constant Wife’


The Constant WifeThe Constant Wife

  • Written by: W. Somerset Maugham
  • Year: 1927
  • Director: Shelley Butler, who will first helm Human Error (May 18 in the Galleria Theater). In 2013, Butler directed the world premiere of Catherine Trieschmann’s comedy The Most Deserving, which was later presented in New York.
  • Dates: Sept. 21-Oct. 21 (Opens Sept. 28)
  • Where: Space Theatre
  • Genre: Satire of manners
  • At a glance: As the intelligent, charming housewife of a successful and wealthy doctor, Constance Middleton would appear to have everything as she cheerfully plays her traditional role. But she knows far more than she’s willing to let on. This cheeky satire pokes holes in the expectations of relationships, fidelity and social roles that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1920s. The Constant Wife takes joy in the imperfections of life and applauds those who elude the strict confines of society to discover true happiness.
  • Says Artistic Director Chris  Coleman: “I was knocked out the first time I read this play. It’s a hilariously witty, totally fresh, unbelievably modern look at marriage. It’s almost 100 years old, and it feels like it was written yesterday. Here you have this upper-class British family, and this very privileged woman finds out early on that her husband is having an affair with her best friend — and she’s like, “Yeah … so?” This woman learns how tackle the world on her own outside of any prescribed relationship. It’s delicious to watch her make those discoveries and forge her own economic future. I also think this is the kind of play that this company can do extraordinarily well.
  • The constancy of today: “This seems like the perfect play for contemporary audiences,” Coleman said, “because here you’ve got a wife who’s has a total lack of sentiment on the subject of matrimony. She is the perfectly modern wife.”
  • What the critics have said: “Maugham is concerned with the hypocrisy of the moral double standard imposed upon men and women, and recognizes, surely in advance of his time, that for a woman, the only important freedom is economic freedom. He is also willing, cynically perhaps, to castigate the modern wife of his period as, in the bitter words of his heroine: ‘The prostitute who doesn’t deliver the goods.’ it is a perceptive enough attack on the upper‐middle-class English marriage of his age.” — The New York Times’ Clive Barnes in 1975.
  • About the author: Maugham was a wildly popular British novelist and short-story writer who was reportedly the highest-paid author in the world throughout the 1930s. He was praised for having a clear, unadorned style, cosmopolitan settings and a shrewd understanding of human nature. He is perhaps best remembered for his novels Of Human Bondage (1915) and The Razor’s Edge (1944), the latter the story of a young American war veteran’s quest for a satisfying way of life.
  • Fun facts: Variety called Maugham’s protagonist in The Constant Wife “a perverse protofeminist — and an antecedent to the women of “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City” … The Constant Wife has been staged on Broadway four times, most recently in 2005 starring Kate Burton (daughter of Richard) as Constance. (Lynn Redgrave played her mother, pictured above and right). In 1975, Ingrid Bergman played Constance, Katharine Cornell in 1951 and Ethel Barrymore originated the role in 1927. So no pressure, 2018 Constance, whoever you turn out to be.

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