;The English writer William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) penned an abundance of plays, novels, essays and short stories over the course of a long and prolific career. Considered an expert storyteller, he was also, at one time, the highest-paid author in the world. Income from his work left him financially independent, and he was able to travel the world when he wasn't living in high style on the French Riviera.

;;His 1926 play, The Constant Wife (which can now be seen at the Mad Cow Theatre under the direction of Alan Bruun), is a charming and witty drawing-room comedy of manners that, like the works of Maugham's contemporary Noel Coward, pokes fun at the mores and foibles of the British upper class. What makes The Constant Wife stand somewhat apart from many other plays of its genre, however, is its unconventional ending and the almost Marxian view of life promulgated by its intelligent and benevolent heroine, Constance, whose very name underscores the theme of the work: Marriage is a constant in our lives, but one in which the partners must constantly adapt to changing expectations and situations — economic as well as romantic and sexual.


;To all outward appearances, the Middletons are leading a charmed and happy life with a strong and affectionate marriage as its bulwark. Yet husband John is actually having an affair with Marie-Louise (Dena Kology), Constance's best friend. Constance's circle — including her waspish mother, Mrs. Culver (Peg O'Keef), her spinsterish sister, Martha (Heather Lea Charles), and her businesswoman friend, Barbara (Jennifer Christa Palmer), are all concerned about the effect this will have upon Constance when the truth is ultimately known.


; In fact, Constance has known all along about her husband's infidelity. But when the indiscretion is finally revealed via an angry accusation by Marie-Louise's husband, Mortimer (Jay Hopkins), rather than humiliating herself and others, Constance denies the affair, defends the two miscreants, and sets about turning bad luck, unfaithful friends and lost love to her own advantage. In a burst of feminist bravado, she decides to become financially independent from John and take a holiday with her long-time admirer, Bernard (Tommy Keesling), and continues to insist that her marriage is worth preserving — for, despite its lack of faithfulness, it does embrace a constancy that works to both partners' advantage.


;Throughout the three-hour Mad Cow production, the cast endeavors to convey Maugham's playfulness and droll dialogue, but only partly succeeds, mainly because many of the work's necessary stylistic elements are nowhere in evidence. Over the last few years, Bruun has been able to skillfully adapt dozens of plays to the theatre's postage stamp–sized Stage Left: Even Greek tragedy has been successfully produced in a space more conducive to intimate chamber drama. But here, the play's tiny set works mightily against the sort of panache necessary for this type of mannered comedy. Where the play should be all cigarette smoke and chiffon, with its characters making sweeping entrances and long crosses and indulging in all manner of stage business, Bruun's actors are relegated to standing and talking, sitting and talking and getting up and talking. No drinks are poured, no cigarettes are lit, no grand gestures are offered and movement is severely limited. In fact, Mad Cow's drawing-room set is downright claustrophobic when it begs to be large and expansive.


;In addition, most of the actors are unconvincing in their British accents; trying too hard to sound like upper-crust Londoners, coupled with their inability to engage in any meaningful physical stage activity, makes them come across as stiff and unnatural. Mark Edward Smith's John, for example, is forever compulsively grabbing at the edges of his overly long suit sleeves. If only the poor chap could pour himself a spot of brandy once in a while in order to have something to do other than talk, he might be able to relax more into his role.


;Only Elizabeth Dean, in her intelligent and affectionate rendering of Constance, manages to overcome the limitations of space and language (close your eyes and you'll hear a dead-on channeling of Julie Andrews) in a performance that combines feminine cunning, simple good-heartedness and a downright British practicality that once made the breed masters of the world. Rather than play-acting at being an upper-class wife, Dean has delved inside the soul of this charming and gracious woman. It is the evening's most endearing attribute and the best reason to attend this flawed but still amusing and agreeable play.

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