Substantial Pleasures

The Constant Couple is a constant delight. The Pearl Theater Company’s production of George Farquhar’s turn of the 18th century play presents a perfect example of the playwright’s lines,“What more can most substantial Pleasures boast Than Joy when present, Memory when past?”

This is a play that offers laugh-out-loud entertainment, provocative themes and terrific performances of both comedic theater and period music, all of which echo for days like a fetching melody.

George Farquhar’s youthful comedy invites us into a London teeming with colorful characters. Steadfast Colonel Standard wants nothing more than to win the charming Lady Lurewell. But his way is littered with scheming rivals, troublesome fops, and bumbling rustics, all of whom seem to have some claim on his lady love. Combining all the wicked joy of the jaded Restoration stage with the “novel” notion that faithfulness and integrity might have their uses too, The Constant Couple illuminates a world merrily careening between deceit and honesty, cynicism and hope—between the follies of the past, and the glorious possibilities of the future.

The quality of the production is so uniformly high, it’s not easy to single out specific scenes. The action unfolds in brilliantly flashing intercut scenes that never allow our attention to flag (although the sum is a bit too long, more on this below). Director Jean Randich and the production staff have collaborated in crafting an ideal context for the encounter of outstanding performances. Among them, a few deserve special attention.

Eduardo Placer’s performance of Clincher, a purple-wigged fop, is utterly unforgettable. It’s a simply hilarious role and yet Mr. Placer injects a strange complexity through his unusual physical command and delicate timing that is as unsettling as it is funny.

Bradford Cover as Sir Harry Wildair is everything we want from a pampered gentleman hedonist: he delivers brilliant epigrams and strikes elegant yet foolish poses as if he were born to them. What a chin—and libido—leads this character in and out of trouble.

Rachel Botchan’s Lady Lurewell is a perfect counterpart to Sir Harry: her clever elegance is as deftly performed by her delicate hands and heaving bust as by her musical oration. David L. Townsend and Dominic Cuskern offer wonderful characters and John Pasha delivers a convincing, if somewhat stilted, hero of the heart. Finally, Jolly Abraham’s Angelica manages a fine balance between romantic idealism and moral clear-sightedness.

The supporting cast is consistently strong and the musical interludes are exquisite.

The only complaint this reviewer has to lodge concerns the length of the production. I wonder whether or not the absence of a running time in any of the PR materials is intentional. It clocks in at more than two and a half hours and I think that some minor editing would benefit the whole.

However, any such objection to a play’s length might run counter to The Pearl’s irreplaceable mission to bring classical theater to contemporary audiences. And so, as I pointed out to my 14-year-old date, my goddaughter, we can trust this theater company’s decisions to render a fully authentic experience and thus focus our 21st century attention spans on something longer than a Hollywood movie.

Speaking of 14-year-olds, The Constant Couple is a great family bet, although audiences should be prepared for some robust bawdiness. When the pawing of certain female (or apparently female) characters elicited a few “ewws” from my goddaughter, I enjoyed a discomfort I never see her experience when she watches the most explicit music videos!

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