A Constant Delight Of LanguageWednesday, January 28, 2009
Tonight Rosemary and I went to see Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Granville. It was and Arts Club Theatre production deftly directed by Morris Panych (below, left) with lots of elegance and class. Both elegance and class are as endangered as marriage, newspapers and phones that are only phones. Even if the play had been a terrible play (which it certainly was not) the dialogue, the language, would have been more than adequate to keep me happy and interested.
The Constant Wife has language and more language. It has Maugham's witty, ascerbic, delightful language. It has a language that oozes with elegance. Elegance perhaps accompanied Audrey Hepburn into the grave. Or it could have been earlier with Noël Coward.
The bright, white almost sparse set (Ken MacDonald) was elegant and reassuring. I expected William Powell, Myrna Loy and Asta to enter any minute. There was a cocktail service on a table. The flower arrangements were changed frequently.
All the actors were superb in their parts. Bridget O'Sullivan playing Mrs. Culver reminded me of Agnes Moorhead. Celine Stubel (in colour here) was convincingly ditzy. And I know, because when she posed for me in my studio she was far from it.
It has been years since I last photographed Moya O'Connell (top, left). Age has made her even more beautiful. And age, too, seems to have deepened her voice for the better. I had to use my binoculars to make sure the lovely freckles were still there. Best of all I was wowed by the dresses, the hats and the stockings with the seam in the back. As a rude but wise Argentine once told me, "You start with your eyes where the seam begins, where ankle meets shoe, and then you follow it up until your imagination takes over."
The icing for my language cake was watching Nicole Underhay (playing Constance Middleton) dominate centre stage no matter where she was. And Nancy Bryant (costumes) did a superb job of cutting Underhay's dresses so they stroked her body in the right places. Underhay was pure sensual elegance. The men, Mark Burgess, Ted Cole and Mike Wasko were good but made superfluous by the women. They didn't have a chance. They were yesterday's cold mutton to today's lamb chops.
As I enjoyed Maugham's language I instantly remembered the last line from one of my favourite of his short stories from World Over - The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham. The story is called Mayhew and it ends so wonderfully:
And yet to me his life was a success. The pattern is good and complete. He did what he wanted, and he died when his goal was in sight and never knew the bitterness of an end achieved.
There were lines like that throughout the play. I wonder how Maugham would have handled Twitter's 140 max characters?
I ran into former Globe & Mail Arts reporter Christopher Dafoe. We talked on how we were enjoying the show. I pointed out that one of the reasons was Maugham's dialogue and use of language. Then I, depressingly added that language and its use are dying. Dafoe rebutted quickly, "Americans chose a president because of language." It is pleasant, sometimes to be proven wrong.