Sex, money, and comedy
In old England, if a wife were ever unfaithful and this became public knowledge, her husband was called a “cuckold.”
According to Rose Sengenberger, a senior dramaturgy major and the dramaturg (the person who researches the history and period of the play) for this production, most of the marriages in London during this time were between old, stodgy men and young, lively ladies, utterly mismatched and hence hopelessly dull. The majority of the wives were thus completely dissatisfied with their marriages and wanted more than just to perform their two fundamental duties: being a status symbol for their husbands and producing their heirs. In such a situation, more than a few took on young lovers to satisfy their needs. The lovers were more than obliging, as by consorting with married women, there was little chance of their contracting diseases like syphilis or having to worry about the woman getting pregnant; she could pass off the child as her husband’s, and of course, since she was already married, she would never chase after her lover to marry her!
The London Cuckolds, a comedic play directed by voice and speech professor Don Wadsworth and performed by the School of Drama, describes this issue of marriage in England. It exposes the desire of the wife to seek satisfaction outside her marriage and displays the fear of becoming a cuckold that the husband harbors.
“I was teaching in London in 1998 when the play came out, so I went to see it at the Royal National Theater and immediately, completely fell in love with it,” Wadsworth commented. “And while I was watching it with my jaw on the floor ... I said to myself, ‘This play belongs in a university setting.’” Wadsworth believed that the play was meant for collegiate theater, as all its characters were in their 20s, a perfect age for college students to portray. The only older characters in the play were the three husbands, who were supposed to be in their 50s. Wadsworth, to keep the actors’ ages consistent with their characters, asked three faculty members to take on their roles: Matthew Gray, an assistant professor of acting, plays Doodle; Michael Chemers, an assistant professor of dramatic literature, plays Wiseacres; and Tony McKay, an associate professor of acting, plays Dashwell.
The play was written in 1681, during the Restoration period in England, a time when, after experimenting with being ruled by Parliament under Oliver Cromwell, England wished to restore its monarchy and requested Charles II to return from France to ascend the throne. With Charles II’s restoration, life in England became much less oppressed and the king’s tastes, like his love for expensive fashion and his need for having more than 15 mistresses who fathered him 14 illegitimate children, were transferred to the people.
In a time like this, the play follows the story of three aldermen, Doodle, Dashwell, and Wiseacres, who struggle to keep a tight rein on their straying wives. Each has a different kind of wife and a different approach to dealing with her. Doodle’s wife, Arabella, played by senior drama major Ryah Nixon, is “the witty wife,” whose smarts, Doodle declares, are an asset, as she isn’t easily tricked by clever suitors. But of course, this means that Arabella is easily able to trick Doodle with her wit, too. Dashwell’s wife, Eugenia, played by senior drama major Steffi Garrard, is “the zealous wife” who hides her discontent with pious behavior. Wiseacres, believing that the only way he can save himself from becoming a cuckold is by marrying “the foolish wife,” plans ahead and has his new bride, Peggy, played by senior drama major Laura Mixon, raised in the country away from the contact of men. Added to the mix are the three lovers, Ned Ramble, Frank Towney, and Valentine Loveday, played by senior drama majors Ian Harding, Adam Barrie, and Peter Albrink, respectively.
The play is a raunchy comedy, spiced with much sexual innuendo and a couple of heated bedroom scenes. It succeeds in making the audience laugh out loud with its hilarious plot and dialogue, as the audience watches the close encounters between the lovers and the husbands play out. “It actually feels like a modern play. It happens to be in 1680, but it doesn’t sound antique at all. [The play is] very, very packed and very sexy, very funny ... and when people come to see it, they’ll be amazed at how modern it is,” Wadsworth said.
The characters are all very distinct, and the actors all gave stellar performances. The pair of young suitors, Ramble and Towney, were especially hilarious to watch, and have a Pirates of the Caribbean-esque air about them, as they possess Orlando Bloom’s and Johnny Depp’s character traits. Peggy was also a very big hit with the audience, as with her country bumpkin routine she was able to put on a great comedic performance. Other actors who deserve mention are the maids of Arabella and Eugenia: Engine and Jane. Played by senior drama majors Sonja Field and Shelby Lewis, the maids are the confidants of their mistresses, carrying their messages to their suitors and warning them upon the arrival of their husbands.
With a hilarious plot, brilliant acting, and beautiful costumes and set design, The London Cuckolds provided a terrific glimpse into a slice of English history. Its period setting made the play enjoyable to watch, and it is surprising that so much of the play still seems relevant to this day.