The Country Wife Preview

The Slightly Risque Advertising for the Country WifeWritten by Leslie Lube.At the end of October, the Sarofim School of Fine Arts will present William Wycherley’s Restoration comedy “The Country Wife” in the Jones Theatre. Between October 24 and 28 there will be five performances: one at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday; one at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and one at 3:00 on Sunday.After the Wednesday and Thursday performances, the audience will have the opportunity to join the director and cast for a discussion of the play and its relevance today. Prior to the Sunday performance, Dr. Jim Kilfoyle, chair of the English department, will provide background information about the Restoration period as well as host a question/answer session. This will take place next door to the theatre in the Caldwell-Carvey Foyer.“I think that restoration drama as a whole is particularly astute at exploring the concept of desire,” Kilfoyle said. “The playwrights were able to dig pretty deeply into the good and bad consequences of desire.”SU thespians have been working hard to memorize lines, to prepare costumes and to construct sets. They are joined in their efforts by a guest director, Jared J. Stein. Mr. Stein, who earned a BFA in directing from Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama in 1995 and a MFA in playwriting from UCLA in 2001, is a freelance director and playwright whose work has taken him all over the world. He is the founder and the artistic director of the Fourth World Theatre Laboratory for International Theatre Research. Currently, the laboratory’s main project is the Rhodopi International Theatre Collective, which is a summer program in Bulgaria.Professor Sergio Costola has taken groups of SU theatre students to the collective for the past three years. He and Stein were colleagues in Los Angeles, and their work with the collective led to Stein’s invitation to Southwestern to direct both “The Country Wife” and “Suburbia,” which will be performed later this year.“The Country Wife” tells the story of Mr. Horner, a scheming womanizer who at the play’s opening has come up with a unique method of cuckolding his acquaintances by sleeping with their wives almost literally under their noses.Other characters include Dr. Quack, the physician who assists Horner with his plot; Horner’s friends Harcourt and Dorilant, two somewhat foolish dandies with similarly philandering ways; Pinchwife, Sparkish and Sir Fidget, all prospective cuckolds; Margery Pinchwife, a simple country girl attracted to London society life; Alithea, Pinchwife’s sister-in-law; and Lady Fidger, Dainty Fidget and Mrs. Squeamish, three woman for whom respectability is merely a façade.The story, which was not performed for over 170 years due to its risqué action and suggestive language, is driven by sexual intrigue as the characters defy morality in their quest for pleasure.Wycherley, a well-known Restoration playwright, wrote “The Country Wife” in 1675, and it was performed by the King’s Company at the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane. Several famous actors of the day, including Charles Hart and Elizabeth Boutell, played the lead roles, and the show enjoyed moderate success until the mid 18th century. Its blatantly sexual content had caused a significant amount of controversy from the beginning, and by 1753 the play was no longer performed. Two tamer adaptations that removed offensive scenes replaced the original for a while, but Wycherley’s original work was not performed again until 1924.Restoration playwrights such as Wycherley wrote during a unique time in English history. The Restoration period began in 1660 when Charles II returned to the throne and ended the Puritanical rule of Oliver Cromwell. From 1642 to 1660 a political decree had closed the theatres of London due to the ruling that playacting was not a moral pursuit. The newly reinstated King Charles II, an avid supporter of the arts, established two theatres, the King’s and the Duke’s soon after his return to England.The two troupes had no fresh material to work with since all theatre-related activity had been banned for so long. In the interim, they turned to classics from before the civil wars such as Shakespeare and Fletcher, but soon a new generation of playwrights was writing material that, though often based on earlier dramas, contained a bawdiness that was in direct response to the restrictions of the old Puritanical regime. Wycherley, John Dryden, George Etherege, Aphra Behn and others wrote about formerly taboo topics such as seduction and adultery. English audiences, rebelling after years of obligatory conservatism, reveled in the raciness of this new age of theatre.Although the period itself was somewhat short and the plays did not achieve the lasting popularity of Elizabethan drama, the presentation of these works has become more common in the last few decades as modern audiences discover the clever plots and delightful bawdiness of Restoration drama.Stein highly praised the students he directed in this production. “This play is so demanding,” he said. “Many very experienced actors would have trouble undertaking this huge task.”The work they had to do included cutting the length of the play from four and a half hours to three hours and attempting to create their own interpretation of a Restoration play.“Our view of the logistics of theatre is different than the view held by Restoration audiences,” Stein said. He explained how audience members in the 1670s would come and go during the performance, talk to each other and cause other disturbances. Because modern audiences are so much more attentive to the play itself, inconsistencies that the Restoration audience would not have noticed have to be dealt with in a contemporary presentation. Also, common theatrical techniques of Wycherley’s day, such as his frequent use of asides, must be modified for an audience not as comfortable with those methods of storytelling.Despite the allowances that must be made for the different eras, Stein feels that the themes present in “The Country Wife” are still very relevant today.“I think that the play has a very special significance now,” Stein said, “because we live in a very reactionary society. We are constantly reacting to other people’s sexual manners…Our culture environment has become a giant high school.”Stein explained the ways in which today’s culture is affected by the “never ending gossip” presented by the media. “We hear about Brittany Spears’s underwear or what a senator is doing in the bathroom, and we’re passionate about it for about 15 minutes before we move onto something else.”Stein sees this behavior as a direct parallel to “The Country Wife’s” storyline. “It is a wonderful satire of this kind of culture,” he said. “Sex is seen as a sport, and no one is trying to hide it…The basis of the play is what we talk about continuously on a national level.”All Southwestern students receive two complimentary tickets to the show, which they can reserve at the theatre box office. Everyone else who wishes to attend can purchase tickets from the box office in person, by phone at 512-863-1378, or online at HYPERLINK “http://www.southwestern.edu/boxoffice” www.southwestern.edu/boxoffice. Ticket prices are: Adults-$15, Seniors 63 and older, Youth 16 and under- $10. There are also discounts available for groups of 20 or
more. The box office accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express.Questions about tickets or scheduling should be directed to the box office. Due to the subject matter, this show is not recommended for young children.

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