It is not really easy to stage a comedy that takes place nearly a century before the production. Comedy tends to be topical and it is all too easy for yesterday’s jokes to fall flat.
It is even more difficult when the play in question is pretty much obscure in the first place. Although W. Somerset Maugham’s “Too Many Husbands” was first staged in 1919, virtually everyone in today’s audience is seeing it for the first time.
All that being said, this summer’s American Players Theatre production is wildly funny and keeps its audience howling throughout most of its almost-three-hour duration.
The plot is simple: Victoria, a London socialite, is married to William, who is killed during World War I. A year later, she marries William’s best friend, Frederick, and proceeds to henpeck her new husband much as she did her last.
Victoria is played by Deborah Staples, William is played by James Ridge, and Frederick is played by Marcus Truschinski.
As the play begins, it is evident that Victoria is not totally pleased with Frederick, most likely because he doesn’t bring in enough money. He certainly doesn’t bring in enough money to satisfy Victoria’s mother, Mrs. Shuttleworth, who is portrayed by Tracy Michelle Arnold.
Said mother thinks her daughter would have done better to hold out for a richer suitor, one Leicester Paton (Jonathan Smoots), a somewhat doddering ship-building tycoon who is perfectly willing (why, no one knows) to take Victoria away from all this.
So, there we have the cast and plot. Director David Frank argues that the characters are forerunners of now-familiar British characters like Monty Python.
The question is, how does one make old comedy funny today? The brilliance of this production is that it does so by seeing the original characters through the affectation of the characters we know and love today.
At least, that’s the way it seemed to me (Frank didn’t disclose his plan). If I had shut my eyes and just listened to the dialogue, I would have sworn Mrs. Shuttleworth was played by Maggie Smith, of "Downton Abbey" fame.
Both William and Frederick could have been played by John Cleese.
But what really tops this production off is the brilliant casting of Colleen Madden, who plays three roles in the production.
She is Miss Dennis, a manicurist; Mrs. Pogson, a would-be cook who refuses to cook any meals after lunch; and Miss Montmorency, a “professional correspondent” -- albeit one who appears to be about 80 years old and perhaps 4 feet tall -- whom the husbands employ to provide proof of infidelity so that they can both divorce Victoria and so Paton can marry her and support her in elegant style.
Madden is Spring Green’s version of Kristen Wiig and whenever the action seems a bit slow, she appears and rescues the comedy.
The play will be repeated until mid-September. See it if you can.