Review: Too Many Husbands by Different Stages
by Brian Paul Scipione

Joe Hartman, Martina Ohlhauser, William Cardew (image: Bret Brookshire)

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.

 

Ohlhauser breathes life into a potentially two-dimensional character.  She is charming as she whines, enticing as she lies, and entertaining as she grandstands about her own constant self-sacrifice. One is convinced that she is unaware of her own selfishness even as she selfishly lambasts the selfishness in others.

 


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.

 

Martina Ohlhauser, Tony Salinas (image: Bret Brookshire)The show-stealer is Tony Salinas as Victoria’s potential third husband Mr. Patton, or, to be more specific, the show-stealer is Tony Salinas’ right eyebrow. If someone told me Salinas had to train for six weeks to cock his eyebrow so consistently and in such a hilarious manner I would probably believe it. I’ve never seen someone’s eyebrow make an entrance before he did.  In all seriousness, Salinas’ performance as the obsequious would-be suitor of Victoria is perfectly played. Like Ohlhauser, Salinas follows the most important rule of stage comedy: don’t try to be funny. He entrenches himself in his character to the point that the veracity of his heart-felt sighs and bold declarations of bravado are hard to deny.

 


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 . . . .

 

Review by Elizabeth Cobbe for the Austin Chronicle, July 7

 

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Too Many Husbands
by W. Somerset Maugham
Different Stages

June 24 - July 16, 2011
Vortex Repertory Theatre
2307 Manor Road
Austin, TX, 78722