An Ideal Husband
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Nov. 28, 2003
An Ideal HusbandAuditorium on Waller Creek, through Nov. 30, Running Time: 2 hrs., 40 min.
I've been struggling with a way to describe my reaction to this Different Stages production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Here's what I came up with: impressed, astounded, entertained, delighted.
As soon as I walked into the theatre, I was impressed by Paul Davis' set. Dripping in flowers, rugs, columns, paintings, and brightly colored, multipatterned furniture, Davis has created a most rich and sumptuous English drawing room. Jeanette Driscoll's costumes nail both the male and female Victorian silhouettes, the men in tails, vests, and cravats and the women, more often than not, stunning in layers of skirts, small-waisted with billowing sleeves, and the occasionally conspicuous, flower-and-feather-adorned hat. The visual impression breathed money and culture.
I was astounded by the way the actors handled the text. The story is fairly straightforward: The upright Sir Robert Chiltern, whose wife sees him as the ideal husband, made a single, quite illegal mistake when he was a young man that led to his present fortune, and the conniving Mrs. Cheveley has arrived from the Continent to blackmail him with proof of his gaffe. I see play after play with similarly thin stories in which the actors seem to think that every word they speak is equally important. Of course, this simply is not the case, and director Norman Blumensaadt obviously has communicated to his actors exactly what is and is not important here, for every one of them pushes the tempo right through the witty, sophisticated dialogue, taking time only with moments that have real import. One of these comes late in the first act when Bobbie Oliver's Lady Chiltern, after learning the truth about her husband, begs him to lie to her and help preserve her image of him. I actually believed her, was -- in the best sense of the phrase -- right up on the stage with her, and she wasn't an exception. Everyone, from Frank Benge's man-about-town Lord Goring to Aleta Garcia's sensible Mabel, has similar moments. I sincerely wish I had room to mention everyone involved. Even the English dialects worked! I was entertained especially by Karen Jambon, who totally embodies the gossipy Lady Markby. I rarely have been so convinced by a performance.
I was delighted by the experience. The only major problem: Wilde's text-heavy script. Kudos to Blumensaadt for having his actors push the tempo; otherwise, we're looking at three hours plus and a lot of clock-watching. (And I certainly never thought I'd be writing that the only major problem with a show was the script by Oscar Wilde.) I've seen more than a few shows at the State and Zach that couldn't touch this one. This is not just community theatre at its finest; it's just plain good theatre. It ain't perfect, but it sure is entertaining. And impressive, astounding, and delightful, as well.