Review: Too Many Husbands by Different Stages
by Brian Paul Scipione
Too Many Laughs
The program for Different Stages’ production of Too Many Husbands provides a page-long biography of the author, W. Somerset Maugham, best remembered today as a novelist. Here one may learn that Maugham worked as an obstetrician in the slums of London, joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver at the age of forty and went on to become a secret service agent for British Military Intelligence. This is perhaps to inject a note of seriousness into what is a night of pure frivolity and wall-to-wall folderol.
From the first piercing note of cockney accent to the final smarmy remark of descent, director Norman Blumensaadt conducts a comic symphony of satirical farce. To sum up the action of the play one might take Oscar Wilde’s famous remark, “Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.” And replace “wife” with “husband. “
Victoria, played delightfully (and with much delight) by Martina Ohlhauser, remarried after her first husband William Cardew (Brian Villalobos) was reported killed in the war. She is happy to point out, again and again, that she wore the proper mourning clothes waited the proper time (a year), and married the proper man, a war hero and William’s best friend, Fredrick Lowndes (Joe Hartman). Imagine the kerfuffle when the first husband returns from the war both unscathed and unaware that his wife has remarried and had a second child.
Hartman and Villalobos, as the first two husbands take satirical jabs at one another with the grace of trained duelists, but the moment their wife is out of the room, they cling to each other like the old mates that they are, knowing full well that no one else could understand the other’s pain. Their exasperation is palpable as both strive and fail to out-manipulate their wife, the very queen of manipulation.
And so Different Stages’ production of Too Many Husbands rolls along with scene after scene of clowning and drawing room repartee. And roll along it does for nearly three hours. The play is complete and un-cut with three acts and two brief ten-minute intermissions: a far cry from the plot line of the typical modern TV sit-com which is able to wrap up an outlandish story-line in a short twenty-two minutes. I was fairly certain that the action of the play was finished up by the end of the second act, but the knowledge in the back of mind that this was indeed a three-act play made me suspicious of my own conclusion.
The third act rumbles along with an impassioned performance by Philip Cole as the solicitor who comes to help Victoria secure her various divorces. Unfortunately, in the end, the third act lends nothing to the plot but serves instead as a setting for Maugham to make as many lawyer jokes as he possibly can in less than an hour. This of course, doesn’t stop the laughs from coming: if anything, there are too many laughs . . . .
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