SEX IN THE COUNTRY
By April Caires
Some things change, but the ticklishness of audiences when it comes to jokes about erections and blow jobs isn’t one of them.
Case in point: In 1675, when William Wycherly’s comedy The Country Wife debuted before the upper-crust of England’s Theatre Royal, it was one of the most sexually outrageous comedies of its time, and one of the most successful. More than 300 years later, its run at CSUSB’s theatre proves this bawdy farce has the staying power to play modern audiences’ funny bones like a fiddle.
Though it hails from the seventeenth century, The Country Wife is not the type of restrained romance we usually associate with the corset crowd, where most of the comedy comes from the mounting tension over all the sex everyone’s not having. Instead, with Wycherly’s licentious dialogue and a cast of amped-up twenty-somethings, this play has more sexual energy than former president Clinton on Viagra (and a lot more wit than all those old intern jokes combined).
The Country Wife is propelled by three sexually-charged plots. The primary thrust, so to speak, is provided by Mr. Horner (Matt Sardet), an aptly-named French rake. Just about all of the characters in this play are horny, but none more so than Horner. Ever on the make, Horner connives a backhanded way to gain access to all women of the town who are moored in matrimony, thus inaccessible to him—he spreads a rumor of his own impotence. With his reputation thus, eh hem, softened, the men in town regard Horner as a pitiable non-threat, and Horner proceeds to sleep with their wives one by one (or, as in some scenes, two by one), practically in plain sight.
The second and third plotlines come to the fore when middle-aged fogy Mr. Pinchwife (Brent Schultz) announces his marriage to Margery (the hilarious Asha Menina Agar), a country girl whose main virtue aside from beauty is her stupidity. Pinchwife hoped a country girl would be too ignorant to cheat on him, but ditzy Margery also turns out to be something of a groupie, and soon becomes nakedly enamored of Horner, much to Pinchwife’s horror. As Margery swoons over her dreamboat, her sister Alithea (Paula Curci) is seduced by Horner’s friend Mr. Harcourt (James McMurran), right under the nose of her fiancé, dim and foppish Mr. Sparkish, (Ben Rosenberg)—the Ashton Kutcher of the 17th century set.
Wycherly’s smart dialogue is the savoriest part of the play—fast and funny, it’s punctuated by well-choreographed physical gags, most of which involve characters pantomiming the nasty in a variety of pairings and positions. The CSUSB cast is anchored by its senior performers, notably Rosenberg, Sardet and Jessica Floyd as the lusciously coy Lady Fidget. The only problem with the company’s performance as a whole is the breakneck pace at which most of them deliver their dialogue, and their haste causes some of Wycherly’s delicious language to be lost.
But the play still works; it’s too potent not to, even when rushed. Beginning with the subtle pun in the title (I’ll give you a hint: first syllable), and culminating with a fever pitch of sexual slapstick in the final act, Country Wife throws propriety out the window, and serves up a bawdy romp that’s funny in any century, for never have “forsooths” and foreplay, bodices and booty calls, been so merrily wed.
The Country Wife plays at California State University, San Bernardino, Performing Arts Building, 5500 University Pkwy., San Bernardino, (909) 537-5884; http://theatre.csusb.edu. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Sun., 2 p.m. $5-$10. Thru Dec. 3.