The Boulevard Theatre Ensemble's new production of Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife (running through Oct. 5) proves that you can easily convey the vivacity of Maugham's script without resorting to elaborate sets and costuming. Less is definitely more. If only this idiom had been extended to the extraneous packaging that hampers this otherwise enjoyable production.
The idea of setting The Constant Wife as a play within a play is not entirely without merit, if it helps cast a fresh light on the play. However, here the convoluted device of setting the play within the rehearsal studio of an American repertory theater, enacted by skittish interns, does nothing to elevate our reading of the play. It's unclear whether it represents an attempt to overcome the shortcomings of the tiny studio theater, a misguided effort to inject humor where none is needed, or is meant simply as a good-natured jibe at other local theater companies. Either way, it's an unwarranted distraction that makes for a laborious introduction to the performance.
However, as the performance warms up (an occurrence that coincides with the entrance of Maureen Dornemann in the title role of Constance), the distracting shenanigans recede to little more than a dull nuisance. Despite occasionally stumbling over her lines, Dornemann is serene and captivating. She plays the wife of a successful doctor who is engaged in an affair with her best friend. Surrounded by well-meaning friends and relatives whose desire to reveal the affair is suppressed by her mother, Constance sails along blissfully in her role as trophy wife, buoyed by her clear-eyed pragmatism. Even when her friend's husband divulges the secret she's already long known, her serenity remains unruffled. We end Act Two marveling at, but secretly disturbed by, her poise. Only in the final act is the chink in her armor revealed as she offers a glimpse of what runs beneath her cool surface. She delicately turns the tables not only on her husband, but on the double standards that many societies still harbor toward the sexual infidelities of men and women.
Other performances of note were Christine Horgen as Constance's purring mother, glibly dispensing her cynicism about the weaker sex (in this case, men). Michael Chobanoff's slimy affectations are a good foil to his wife's elegant demeanor. The play ends with the two locked in a friendly embrace, mutually aware of one another's flaws-surely the bedrock of a long and successful marriage.