Horns of plenty

The Country Wife

By William Wycherley
Directed by Alex Roe
West Side Repertory Theatre
252 W. 81st St. (874-7290)
Non-union production (closes February 15)
Review by Dudley Stone

The diarist John Evelyn was right when he said, in 1688, "So long as men are false and women vain/While gold continues to be virtue's bane/In pointed satire Wycherley shall reign." While theater critic Howard Taubman observed, "The false airs, affected manners and elaborate insincerity of the (Country Wife) characters describe large segments of any society, including our own." So if taut dialog and bawdy wit are your cup of tea, hurry over to the Westside Repertory Theatre and enjoy an evening of Restoration comedy.

Margery Pinchwife , a country girl, has been brought up to London by her aging, jealous husband, anxious to protect her from the city's rakes, fops, and philanderers. Jasper Horner, a clever philanderer, spreads the false rumor that he is a eunuch. Husbands practically throw their wives at him, delighted that they can have affairs without losing their honor. Jack Pinchwife, Marjorie's husband, throws her together with Horner and is consequently cuckolded. Marjorie almost spills the beans about Horner's deception, but the other ladies are careful to keep his secret and thus preserve their own reputations.

This play, an extremely ambitious choice for director Alex Roe, was, on the whole, well done. At two hours and 45 minutes it could use some cutting, but Roe moved it along briskly, and it was never dull. Roe made very good use of the West Side Repertory's very small space to move around a cast of 14 with some smooth blocking, imaginative scene changes, and a minimum of furniture (set: Doug De Vita), adequate lighting (William Kenyon) and very well-chosen music (uncredited). There were some nice touches, such as the cast crossing the stage and then exiting before the play begins to introduce themselves.

The production, though, lacked coherence, and there was an uneven quality in the acting styles and costume design (uncredited). Generally speaking, the women's costumes suggested the period and were well-chosen. Those of the men seemed thrown together. Horner, the foppish philanderer, for example, wore rumpled black jeans and scuffed shoes.

Some of the actors, especially the women, played with a high style and elegance that others lacked. Sidney Fortner (Lady Fidget) was splendid; her every movement, smile, and gesture with fan were pure Restoration comedy. Tanya Clarke (the Country Wife) was also fine; her letter-writing scene with her husband was just right. Claire Kempton was poised and lovely as (Miss Pinchwife) and Teresa Kelsey (Mrs. Squeamish) gave a well-rounded portrayal.

The men were generally less successful, with the exceptions of Jason Hauser, a very well-spoken and assured Horner, and Russ Hamilton, very funny and a delight as Mr. Sparkish.. Brandon Epland was too young for his roles (Dr. Quack). Jack Nicolo (Jack Pinchwife), who drives the play, displayed creditable energy, but at times was "over the top," thus disturbing the balance of some scenes. Jeff Miller (Harcourt), on the other hand, often seemed too relaxed and laid-back. Also featuring Alexandra Devin, Jeff Reibe, Kathleen Carthy, Ron Thomas, and Kathleen Ford.

This is the 29th season of the Westside Repertory Company, who were honored last year with an OOBR award for Off-Off Broadway achievement. Director Roe and the company deserve thanks and support for taking on this challenging classic and presenting a very entertaining evening. By all means go and see it!

Box Score:
Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1998 Dudley Stone