The Country Wife

Stage history

The play had a good initial run, although Horner's trick and the notorious china scene immediately raised offence. Wycherley laughed off such criticisms in his next play, The Plain Dealer (1676), where he has the hypocritical Olivia exclaim that the china scene in The Country Wife "has quite taken away the reputation of poor china itself, and sullied the most innocent and pretty furniture of a lady's chamber". Olivia's sensible cousin Eliza insists that she'll go see The Country Wife anyway: "All this will not put me out of conceit with china, nor the play, which is acted today, or another of the same beastly author's, as you call him, which I'll go see."[15] Writing himself into The Plain Dealer as the "beastly author" of the china scene, Wycherley seems more amused than repentant. The Country Wife did in fact survive the complaints to become a dependable repertory play from 1675 till the mid-1740s, but by then public taste had changed too much to put up with the sex jokes any longer. Its last eighteenth century performance in 1753 was followed by a hiatus of 171 years, until the successful Phoenix Society production in 1924 at the Regent Theatre in London. The first-ever American performance of Wycherley's original Country Wife took place in 1931.

During its long banishment from the stage, The Country Wife continued a shadowy existence in the form of David Garrick's cleaned-up version The Country Girl (1766), where Margery is a virgin and Horner her romantic lover. This play was very popular, going through at least twenty editions, reaching the New York stage in 1794, and surviving in both London and New York into the twentieth century. The few modern critics who have read Garrick's version typically dismiss it as "sentimental and boring, where The Country Wife is astringent and provocative".[1] Wycherley's original is now again a stage classic, with countless professional and amateur performances, an actors' favourite because of the high number of good parts it offers. The movie Shampoo (1975), with Warren Beatty as the Horner character, is a somewhat distant version of The Country Wife after exactly 300 years, reportedly inspired by the Chichester Festival production of 1969.[16] There was a BBC Play of the Month production of The Country Wife, in 1977, in which Anthony Andrews plays Horner and Helen Mirren plays Margery.

The Country Wife was also restaged as a musical – Lust. Written by the Heather Brothers, it was first performed at the Queens Theatre in Hornchurch, Essex in 1992. It later transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London's West End, starring Denis Lawson as Horner. The production & Lawson then moved to the John Houseman Theatre in New York in 1995.

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