Provocative comedy a little incomplete

George Brown students explore marriage issues with humour in The Provoked Wife

★★★★

The Provoked Wife may have been written in 1697, but in the era of Ashley Madison and around 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce, the play is still relevant.

But the George Brown College (GBC) theatre school production is also evasive. Through its comedic twists, the play avoids as many serious confrontations as possible, putting forward a lighter impression of a failing marriage. While the lighter approach to the failed marriage succeeds in bringing the audience many good laughs, it leaves behind a feeling of being incomplete. 

Directed by Blair Williams, the play surrounds Lady Brute (Emma Nelles), as, well, a provoked wife that’s fed up with her life and her loveless two-year marriage with a ruthless, gambling and drunken husband. After talks with her niece Belinda (Terri Pimblett), Lady Brute decides to spice up her existence by cuckolding her husband, Sir John Brute (Andrew Cameron). 

She has her eyes on Constant (Justin Mullen), a handsome young bloke who has been in love with her since forever.

Scenes in between the Brutes feature the story of Lady Fancyfull (Louise Filgiano), an almost narcissist, always with her French servant Madmoiselle (Lila Bata-Walsh), and a certain Heartfree (Nicolas Eddie), a young sharp-tongued, self-proclaimed uncatchable guy. 

The play also shines with the hilarious scenes of Sir John Brute giving in to alcohol and digging his own grave because of it, as well as the funny love triangle between Lady Fancyfull, Heartfree and Belinda. And, of course, the play has its moments in the tryst between Lady Brute and Constant.

The names that the playwright, Sir John Vanbrugh uses are a kind of self-explanatory shorthand for the characters. And the names are greatly complemented with the costumes in the GBC production. 

Lady Fancyfull and Madmoiselle are dressed in hot pink dresses that really stand out among all characters. And Constant is dressed in different shades of reds, a sign of him being the most passionate patriot of love, particularly towards Lady Brute.

Lady and Sir John Brute are the focus of the play but sometimes they get overshadowed by Lady Fancyfull and Madmoiselle, who constantly speaks in French, yet still manages to convey enough information for a non-French speaking audience. Filgiano managed to paint a fine portrait of Lady Fancyfull, with her chameleon-like style of acting and her great chemistry with the other cast members, especially Lila Bata-Walsh.

The Provoked Wife manages to smartly stress the fine line between virtue and vice. It raises the question of right and wrong. In the Brutes’ case, it’s a complex issue between a wife tired of her marriage and a husband who is nowhere near perfect. 

The play runs from April 11 to 21 at the Young Theatre for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $10 for students, $20 for seniors and GBC alumni, and $25 for adults.

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Provocative comedy a little incomplete