The Country Wife
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
January 7, 2007
The Country Wife is William Wycherley's 1675 Restoration comedy—which means plenty of bawdiness, wit, and ornate costuming. This is a long one (2 hours and 40 minutes plus an intermission) and can feel a bit slow for today's audiences, however it's splendid to look at and packed with great lines.
The story involves ladies man Harry Horner, who starts a rumor about his own impotence in order to gain access to the "virtuous" ladies of society. There is also the newly married Mr. Pinchwife, who is trying to keep his unsophisticated bride from the randy fellows in town.
The production offers a small live orchestra and a large cast well choreographed on a relatively small stage. The staging, by director John Ficarra, is neat, with actors standing in well-formed clusters in a very organized manner. The costumes, by Karl A. Ruckdeschel, are gorgeous.
The acting here is overall very good, including wonderful performances by Kristin Price as the innocent but lusty Mrs. Pinchwife; Ray Rodriguez, robust and strong as Mr. Pinchwife; and Richard Haratine, smart and mischievous as Horner. Particularly hilarious is Brian Linden as Sparkish—a saucy fellow who is beyond fop. It always makes me happy to watch an actor enjoying his role, and every time Linden comes onstage it seems he is having a ball. Of course, it might be hard to not have a ball in his ensemble: aside from long eyelashes, visible from rows back, and bright pink lipstick, he prances around in shoes tied with a multitude of pink ribbons, a flouncy shirt and knee-length pants in lush pinks, peaches, and reds, a hot pink ribbon and sparkly white scarf. His is a campy role and a real chance for someone to show their stuff, which this actor certainly does.
Really the whole thing sends a message that everyone in town really, really wants to just be having sex. Everyone's rosy faced, with women's bosoms propped up high in the fashion of the day. References to virtue and wit abound, as they are clearly the most important qualities a person can possess: "Women of quality are so civil, one can hardly distinguish love from good breeding." "I think wit is as necessary at dinner as good wine." "What is wit in a wife good for but to make her husband a cuckold?" "Indeed the time was I hated only virtuous women, but now I hate the other too."
One of the many charming things about this production involves the ladies' use of fans. The night before, I'd been out reviewing The Mikado, in which fans are very much in use as well. They're such ladylike, refined accessories that after two nights in a row of seeing them, one almost wonders why they fell out of fashion.