Tuesday, January 09, 2007

PLAY: "The Country Wife"

Restoration comedy is a moniker that might chase away some audiences, conjuring up images of Shakespearian prose and dainty outfits rather than bawdy plots and hilarious farce. So let's call a fop a fop and cut to the chase of this excellent production by the HoNkBarK! Theater company: The Country Wife is a sex comedy, complete with bold double entendre, like a scene in which the supposed eunuch Horner (just faking it so that men will trust him with their wives) pounds Lady Fidget's “china” while her husband, the aged Sir Jasper Fidget, and Old Lady Squeamish laugh unknowingly to themselves.

Whether it's the outstanding cast, the fantastic portrait-gallery set, or their delightfully colored velvet robes, stockings, and beribboned shoes (and that's just the men!), this 1675 play hasn't aged a day, and actually has the added humor of watching a historical sexcapade from our modern perspective. John Ficarra, who keeps the pace brisk for this three-hour show, has worked in plenty of physical comedy too, playing with the tropes of caricature in the oblivious Sparkish (a fantastic Brian Linden) and the signature repetitions of the (rightfully) jealous Mr. Pinchwife and his innocent country wife, Mrs. Margery Pinchwife.

The play steals from Moliere, but more in the traditional homage of the time than a plagiarist's intent, and I'd love to see the exceedingly talented Ray Rodriguez and Kristin Price go on to star in A School for Wives. That's a specific example, but the whole cast knows how to keep classical theater alive: their lines are more baroque than our modern argot, but their actions are direct and to the point. Take for example one of the three plots: Harcourt (Steve Kuhel) finds that the best way to seduce Sparkish's wife-to-be, Alithea, is to let the fool help him. Alithea's misplaced honesty to her fiancee forces Harcourt to be as quick with his tongue as he is on his feet, and there's not a twisted line of logic from his mouth that can't be followed by the audience.

The bottom line is that The Country Wife is filled with men of wit and women of fancy, and as the show builds to a satisfying collision of plotlines, you can't help being giddy with the delight of being swept off your feet. Not many Off-Off-Broadway productions feature such high production values, casting standards, and entertaining scripts: I advise you to rush to the country before it's too late.

[First posted on New Theater Corps on 1/7]

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