Friday again, and time for my weekly Wall Street Journal drama-column teaser. I’m out of town and blissfully computer-free, but Our Girl has been kind enough to post it for me by remote control. I reviewed two shows today, one in New York (Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife) and one in New Jersey (Paper Mill Playhouse’s revival of Ragtime).
Here’s the scoop:
What makes “The Constant Wife” so peculiar is that it starts out as one kind of period piece, then turns unexpectedly into another. Everyone wears oh-so-’20s outfits, and a poker-faced butler (Denis Holmes) announces the arrival of each character in turn. Then, midway through the second act, Constance starts delivering stilted orations that might have been lifted from a very different sort of play: “So long as John provides me with all the necessities of existence I wouldn’t be unfaithful. It all comes down to the economic situation. He has bought my fidelity and I should be worse than a harlot if I took the price he paid and did not deliver the goods.” Imagine Henrik Ibsen rewritten by Oscar Wilde and you’ll get some idea of what “The Constant Wife” sounds like….
I loved Paper Mill Playhouse’s revival of “Ragtime,” the stage version of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, in which Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens got right everything they got wrong earlier this season at Lincoln Center with “Dessa Rose.” Directed by Stafford Arima along the lines of his 2003 London production, Paper Mill’s “Ragtime” is a small-scale rethinking of a large-scale pageant, one that strips away all visual superfluities to concentrate on Mr. Flaherty’s magnificent score. The result is little short of revelatory….
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