James Ridge, Deborah Staples and Marcus Truschinski in American Players Theatre's Too Many Husbands
No side of the love triangle that is Too Many Husbands is left unmarred by Victoria, the wily star of W. Somerset Maugham's play about marriage, violence and adultery. What sounds like a soap opera is actually a lighthearted domestic comedy set in post-World War I Britain and performed on American Players Theatre's Up-the-Hill stage (through Sept. 14).
Pretty Victoria (Deborah Staples) finds herself with one spouse too many when her first husband returns from the dead. After three years of amnesia and imprisonment, he bursts into her bedroom to find that she has married his best friend. Competition ensues between the new rivals, who both see an opportunity to break free of dear, sweet Victoria. She is everything she says she’s not: vain, selfish, indulgent and unapologetically husband hungry in a time of husband scarcity. But though she believes she is the apple of every man’s eye, she never turns into a villain.
Played by a less careful actress, Victoria could easily become a nuisance as she parades around in her rhinestone-studded and fur-lined outfits. But Staples’ practiced repertoire of voices, which range from breathy and delighted to husky and enraged, bring depth to Victoria's personality, showing us that she is as manipulative as she is naïve.
Thankfully, only Victoria inhabits her fantasy world, and the supporting characters help ground us in reality. Minor characters dominate several scenes, offering brief and entertaining spectacles without leaving any loose ends. Two standout performances include Colleen Madden as a demanding cook who denounces Victoria and John Pribyl as a lawyer who helps Victoria with her divorces. Freddie, the husband played by Marcus Truschinski, nearly steals the show with his sharp one-liners, turning what could be dull dialogue into subtly sarcastic insults. Even when he has no lines, his woe-is-me stare out into the crowd says it all: "I am a broken man."
This production succeeds because the actors make the characters absurd without turning them into caricatures. Not every scene achieves this delicate balance, but minor mishaps remind us how well everything else is done. This comedy never becomes a farce, and its themes of being in love and falling out of love during marriage still resonate today.