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A CurtainUp Review
The Constant Couple

Grant me some wild expressions, Heavens, or I shall burst! .—Lady Lurewell
Dominic Custern & Rachel Botchan in The Constant Couple
(Photo: Gregory Constanzo)
Since my particular academic specialty is Renaissance drama, I've always been left a little lukewarm by Restoration drama. Cynical, jaded, and far more cautious than work from the era which preceded it, Restoration plays from Etherege's Man of Mode to Dryden's All For Love always seem at pains to reduce the impact of their own messages: love and war are deadly and dangerous, lies will be told and hearts broken, but we are at the theater after all, good friends. . .let's not take anything too seriously.

George Farquhar, who died at the age of 29, in some ways appears to be a typical Restoration dramatist, moderately successful, not particularly prolific, and easily forgotten. But as the Pearl Theatre's latest revival of Farquhar's The Constant Couple again proves, first impressions are often as problematic as the people who are judged by them, and there is more going on below the surface of this play than it might otherwise appear.

The Constant Couple follows the tribulations of five suitors to Lady Lurewell, an attractive and witty woman (played with great vivacity and charm by Rachel Botchan) living in the heart of London who entertains each of her would-be lovers at various times. But unbeknownst to all, Lurewell is in fact an enemy to all of the male gender. Having had her honor and reputation taken from her by an apparently deceitful suitor when she was only fifteen, she lives now only to take her revenge on the opposite sex through a host of cons and double-crosses. Given the dubious moralities of each of her five lovers—Vizard (David L. Townsend), a pious but hypocritical youth, Smuggler (Dominic Cuskern), an old and dishonest merchant, Clincher (Eduardo Placer), an insufferably irritating fop, Colonel Standard (John Pasha), far too macho for his own good, and Sir Harry Wildair (Bradford Cover), a rich and entirely unreliable baronet—it's hard to blame Lurewell for her attitude. But as the plot progresses, it becomes clear that not all cons are the same, and hasty assumptions can sometimes be dangerous things, even for someone as clever as Lurewell.

Part of the success of the production can be attributed to the Pearl's typical competence and professionalism, from sets (designed by Harry Feiner) to costumes (Liz Covey). But what really makes this all work is how well the play communicates the characters' failings—and there are more failings than characters!—without having to resort to the nasty and off-putting cynicism typical of Restoration drama. Director Jean Randich is particularly good at showing us just enough humanity to convince us to forgive at least a few of the hypocritical and flawed personalities on stage. Her careful managing of the play's pace keeps it from falling either into shallow farce or irritating pseudo-melodrama.

There's more good news in the cast, which is uniformly good and occasionally excellent. The virginal Angelica is played by Jolly Abraham with the appropriate mix of innocence and indignation. Townsend's creepy portrayal of the villainous Vizard is both subtle and focused, and Placer's over-the-top rendition of Clincher is surprisingly funny (his oft-repeated desire to "go to the JubiLEEEE!" was a particular crowd favorite). Cuskern and Pasha turn in solid performances as merchant and overwrought soldier. But Cover's Wildair, exactly the right blend of bored amusement and confident swagger, and especially Botchan's Lurewell are by far the best. Botchan's performance is both vivid and nuanced, and she manages to be both charming and moving without breaking from the play's overall conventions. In the end we are more engaged with her than with any other character, as Farquhar surely would have wanted.

The production isn't entirely without missteps. There are a few odd anachronisms uncomfortably juxtaposed with the rest of the setting (a porter on "wheely" sneakers, for instance, or a constable with a bright neon crossing guard stripe across his front), and the songs which break up the rest of the dialogue aren't universally successful. But on the whole, the play takes its message seriously, even when it's trying to be funny. The end result is a well-conceived and executed performance which delivers more than even Renaissance drama stalwarts might have expected from the Restoration. In The Constant Couple the Pearl has added yet another success to its impressive list, and if you're at all interested in classic theater this play is worth the trip.

Playwright: George Farquhar
Directed by Jean Randich
Cast: Jolly Abraham (Angelica/Tom Errand's Wife), Rachel Botchan (Lady Lurewell), Robin Leslie Brown (Parly), Joanne Camp (Lady Darling), Bradford Cover (Sir Harry Wildair), Dominic Cuskern (Smuggler), Meg McCrossen (Musician/Servant/Mob), Sean McNall (Clincher Jr.), Orville Mendoza (Tom Errand/Constable Gaoler/Butler), Jack Moran (Servant/Musician/Mob), John Pasha (Colonel Standard), Eduardo Placer (Clincher Sr.), Caleb Rupp (Dicky/Musician/Mob), David L. Townsend (Vizard)
Scenic Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Liz Covey
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Running time: Two hours, twenty-five minutes, includes  one ten minute intermission
The Pearl Theatre Company, 80 St. Mark's Place, (212) 598-9802
From 11/13/07 to 12/23/07; opening 11/25/07
Tues. @ 7 p.m., Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 p.m., Wed. and Sun. matinee @ 2 p.m. Tickets: Tues. - Thurs. $40, Fri. - Sun. $50
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on November 1st preview performance

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