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|The Constant Wife|
|Written by||W. Somerset Maugham|
John Middleton FRCS
|Date premiered||November 1, 1926|
|Place premiered||Ohio Theatre, Cleveland, Ohio|
|Genre||comedy of manners|
|Setting||A house in Harley Street, 1920s|
The Constant Wife, a play written in 1926 by W. Somerset Maugham, is a comedy whose modern and amusing take on marriage and infidelity gives a quick-witted, alternative view on how to deal with an extramarital affair.
A “sparkling comedy of ill manners”, The Constant Wife features the resourceful and charming Constance Middleton, who has long known that her husband had been having an affair with her best friend, Marie-Louise. When the affair is publicly acknowledged, rather than reprimanding or divorcing him, she embraces the opportunity to create an independent life, starting a new job, paying her husband for room and board, and taking on her own lover.
The Constant Wife was later published for general sale in April 1927.
The Constant Wife was most recently on Broadway in 2005, where Variety described it as "an antecedent to the women of Sex and the City”. The production's Kate Burton (Constance) and Lynn Redgrave (her mother) were nominated for Tony Awards.
Called one of Maugham’s “most clever and captivating creations”, Constance is the calm, intelligent, and self-possessed wife of John Middleton, a successful London doctor. Knowing full well of her husband's infidelity with her best friend Marie-Louise, Constance purposefully pretends that she has no idea of the affair. When Marie-Louise's jealous husband publicly confronts Constance about their spouses’ affair, Constance protects both her husband and Marie-Louise by cleverly lying to disprove his evidence. She later reveals to her family that she has known of the affair all along, and further confounds them by demonstrating a total lack of sentiment on the subject of matrimony. Resolving to establish her own economic independence ("which she considers the only real independence"), she goes into business as an interior decorator with her friend Barbara. After taking London by storm in her new role, she determines to pay her husband for her room and board, and then announces she is going off for an Italian vacation with a longtime admirer. Her husband is, in turn, shocked and outraged at this turn of events, but finally capitulates to her outrageous charm—and to their unusual arrangement—as the curtain falls.
The play was first produced in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Ohio Theatre, on November 1, 1926, with Ethel Barrymore playing the title role, and Mabel Terry-Lewis and C. Aubrey Smith in support. It subsequently opened on Broadway, running for 295 performances, and was successfully toured by Ms. Barrymore afterwards. When the first edition of the play was published in 1927, Maugham dedicated it to her. Years later, he said that her performance was the best he had seen in any of his plays.
The Constant Wife has been produced multiple times in London—Ruth Chatterton (Globe Theatre, 1937); Ingrid Bergman (Albery Theatre, September 1973), Jenny Seagrove (Apollo Theatre, April 2002, then transferring to the Lyric Theatre, June 2002)—despite a rocky premier starring Fay Compton at the Strand Theatre in April 1927, in part due to the theater’s muddling of seating arrangements and Ms. Compton’s insulting the audience.
In December 1951, a U.S. revival starring Katharine Cornell was staged for a summer festival in Colorado. It was such a success that Cornell took the production to the National Theatre on Broadway starring herself and Brian Aherne. It grossed more money for Cornell's production company than any play she and her husband-director Guthrie McClintic ever produced.
In addition to the 2005 revival on Broadway, other revivals include John Gielgud's staging, also starring Ingrid Bergman and Jack Gwillim, at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway (1975), Minneapolis (2005), Charleston, SC (2007) and the Gate Theatre, Dublin (2016) starring Tara Blaise.
- "The Constant Wife". Retrieved 11 November 2018.
- Barnes, Clive (17 June 2005). "'Constant': It's a Wonderful 'Wife'". New York Post. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
- Rogal, Samuel J. (1997). A William Somerset Maugham Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. xv. ISBN 0-313-29916-1.
- Rooney, David. "The Constant Wife". Variety. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
- Werner, Jessica (27 March 2003). "Maugham Knows Best: An Interview with Director Kyle Donnelly". In Broderson, Elizabeth (ed.). Words on Plays: Insights into the Play, the Playwright, and the Production The Constant Wife. American Conservatory Theater. p. 4.
- Raymond Mander (1955). Theatrical Companion to Maugham: A Pictorial Record of the First Performance of the Plays of W. Somerset Maugham. London, England: Rockliff. p. 199.
- Maugham, W. Somerset (1932). Collected Plays, Volume 4. London, England: William Heinemann Ltd. p. xv. ISBN 0-313-29916-1.
- Knapp, Hannah (27 March 2003). "A Brief Production History of The Constant Wife". In Broderson, Elizabeth (ed.). Words on Plays: Insights into the Play, the Playwright, and the Production The Constant Wife. American Conservatory Theater. pp. 13–14.
- Charming Sinners, retrieved 2019-04-28