The Constant Wife
At the Plymouth
The Constant Wife is in many ways an excellent comedy. For considerable stretches of time it manages to transcend the limitations of its type--the drawing room comedy. But in the last analysis, I'm afraid, despite a good try, it remains a pretty standard piece; Some rest Maugham has not escaped mediocrity.
It can't be denied that the play has a fresh and entertaining twist on the popular subject of marital infidelity. The injured party, who is the "constant wife" of the title, not only knows about her husband's affair but actually approves of it. She expresses this unconventional view with some force and scores many points, over the other characters, all of whom, needless to say, are slavishly conventional. All of them--the friend in need, the moralizing mother, two different types of outraged husband, and several others--are put to the sword, and a good deal of genuine social satire results from this assault on conventional morality.
All this is very entertaining, but there is no escaping the consequences of a cast of characters composed of stereotypes, no matter how necessary they may be as foils for the brilliant unconventionality of the protagonist. This is a flaw inherent in the very idea of the play. Furthermore, Maugham has not altogether succeeded in escaping the stereotype in the case of the heroine herself. The drawing room comedy has seen unconventional heroines before, and Maugham has drawn a bit freely on the stock of conventionally unconventional ideas.
So much for Maugham. The production, with Katherine Cornell in the lead, is excellent I would say. Miss Cornell has a tendency to overact, but this is perhaps a good thing in a play like The Constant Wife. Certainly I wouldn't press the objection. The rest of the cast is good, too, and the production as a whole is well modulated.