out of town theatre reviewsout of town theatre reviewsWhen fooling around isn't such a bad thing THE CONSTANT WIFE by Somerset Maugham, directed by Neil Munro, with Laurie Paton, Blair Williams, Peter Krantz and Glynis Ranney. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Runs in rep to October 9. $42-$82. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNN you'd never know that the con stant Wife , with its progressive talk about the evolving nature of love and marriage, is nearly 80 years old. Author Somerset Maugham threw a few curve balls at his audience, including the ideas that extramarital affairs can be a positive thing, that the other partner isn't always upset by them and that a woman needs economic independence to be an equal partner in a relationship.
He presents the ideas in witty and sometimes brittle fashion, focusing on the 15-year-old marriage between well-off surgeon John ( Blair Williams ) and his elegant wife Constance ( Laurie Paton ). John's having it off with Constance's best friend Marie-Louse ( Glynis Ranney ), but Constance - realizing that the fire's out in her marriage - doesn't mind.
But her friends and relatives in their upper-class circle do, and Maugham's good at showing the hypocrisy and snootiness in their attitudes toward the public and private spheres of marriage. Things change for everyone when Constance's former wooer Bernard ( Peter Krantz ) shows up on the Middletons' doorstep and is encouraged to spend time with Constance.
Paton's expert at being the society wife, with a Cheshire-cat grin and purring voice, ignoring her husband's affair and doing her best not to let it cause an eruption amongst her acquaintances. When her initially quiet manner turns steely as the play goes on, she reveals there's more to Constance than we initially see.
Williams has John's well-born charm and narrow-sighted views down pat, and Krantz brings some real feeling to the humour that's part of Bernard's character. But director Neil Munro turns Ranney's Marie-Louise into a foolish comic figure, thus unbalancing the relationship between the two women and between the lovers. Ranney plays it well, but the interpretation dulls Maugham's point for the sake of a few laughs.