Monday, October 11, 2010

An Ideal Husband

AN IDEAL HUSBAND delightful yet purposeful at GLTF

Oscar Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND, now running in repertoire with OTHELLO at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, is a social comedy. Comedy because it is full of Wilde's wonderful use of paradox (absurd statements that express truth) and sarcastic comments about society and people. In addition, it deals with important social issues, which are as relevant today as when the play was written in the late 1800s.

To understand Wilde's plays it is helpful to understand Wilde, the man. During his college years he became part of the “Oxford Movement,” a group that expounded upon the virtues of classical culture and artistry. They stressed art for art's sake. This philosophy carries over into his plays. Then there is Wilde's personal life. He was married, but had an affair with the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas, whose father did not approve of the gay relationship and accused Wilde of sodomy. Wilde, unwisely, tried to sue the father. Wilde's case was dropped when his homosexuality, acts which were outlawed in England, was exposed. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor in prison. His trial took place during the London run of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST and AN IDEAL HUSBAND. His name was taken off the billboard of the plays and they were originally published without his being credited as the author.

It is prophetic that in AN IDEAL HUSBAND Wilde states, "we shall all have to pay for what we do." He paid heavily for what he had done as he left jail penniless and died shortly thereafter at the age of 46.

AN IDEAL HUSBAND revolves around the lives of two men, successful political figure, Sir Robert Chiltern, and his friend, the charming and frivilous Lord Arthur Goring. The world of these men is turned upside down by the arrival of an old acquaintance, Laura Cheveley, who has come with blackmail in mind. Chiltern could lose everything, including his wife Gertrude, if Cheveley succeeds and Goring could lose his adored Mabel. Underlying the actions is the question of what makes for an ideal husband.

The Great Lakes production, under the direction of Sari Ketter, is delightful. Ketter proposes that the play is like a fairy tale and carries out the theme in manner, dress and setting. She perceives that there are prince charmings (Chiltern and Goring); princesses (Gertrude and Mabel); a wicked witch (Laura Cheveley); a couple of mean gossips (much like Cinderella's step sisters); galloping horses (the stage hands who prance through the choreographed set changes); and in, the end, as in every good fairy tale, an ending in which the “good ones” live happily ever after.

Ketter's concept is not the usual approach to the script. Therefore, some might complain that the production is too light, too frothy and loses the serious undertone. Since I like to see Wilde's comedies take on this light approach, while letting the underlying meaning of the words carry the message, I am most pleased with this production.

The GLTF cast is excellent. Richard Kalutsch, who ironically has a strong physical resemblance to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is a believable Sir Chiltern. David Anthony Smith is nothing short of delightful as Viscount Goring (probably Wilde's alter ego). Aled Davies is full of bluster as Goring's nagging father. Jodi Dominick is properly uptight as Chiltern's wife and Sara Bruner is charming as Mabel, Chiltern's sister. Maryann Nagel is so very, very proper as Lady Markby, a prominent member of London society, and Laura Perrotta hones in on the role of scheming Mrs. Chevely as makes her into the “wicked witch” with a vengeance. Credit must also go to the young men playing the servants and footmen for their precise movement of set pieces, which often brought applause and laughs from the audience.

Jason Lee Resler's costume designs are exquisite and Nayna Ramey's fragmented set works well.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF's AN IDEAL HUSBAND is a production which should please and delight audiences.