Douglas Morrisson Theatre Presents AN IDEAL HUSBAND, Now thru 3/2

Douglas Morrisson Theatre Presents AN IDEAL HUSBAND, Now thru 3/2

The Douglas Morrisson Theatre continues its 2013-2014 season with a world premiere adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband." Directed by the Douglas Morrisson Theatre's Artistic Director Susan E. Evans, Bay Area playwright Scott Munson's sparkling new adaptation of the 118 year old play in a modern setting features an ensemble of local performers: Myers Clark as Roosevelt, Teddy Spencer as Thomas Goring, Daria Hepps as Laura Chiltern, Craig Souza as Robert Chiltern, Cynthia Lagodzinski as Rosalind Cheveley, Brooke Silva as Tammy Chiltern, Kendall Tieck as Governor Goring, Celia Maurice as Mrs. Markby, Alicia von Kugelgen as Mrs. Marchmont, Beebe Reisman as Mrs. Basildon and Tina Rutsch as Ambassador Nanjac.

"An Ideal Husband" previews tonight, February 6, 2014, opens February 7, and runs through March 2, 2014, at the Douglas Morrisson Theatre, 22311 N. Third Street, in Hayward. The Saturday matinee on February 22, 2014, at 2:00 p.m., will be followed by a talkback session with the director, playwright adaptor and cast.

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike." Mrs. Cheveley, "An Ideal Husband"

In Oscar Wilde's brilliantly witty comedy, fate catches up to politician Robert Chiltern when a mysterious woman produces a letter revealing a past misdeed. Is this a public scandal or private shame? One of the more serious of Wilde's social comedies, "An Ideal Husband" focuses on the often corrupt underpinnings of wealth and power, how information and knowledge in politics hold sway, and how public and personal morality can collide. "An Ideal Husband" also takes a good-natured poke at the institution of marriage, asking us if it is it truly possible to try to have an "ideal" marriage. In the end, Wilde's message is surprisingly benign: only love really matters, only love will lead to happiness.

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Wilde's story clearly mirrors certain scandals in contemporary politics. When Artistic Director Susan E. Evans and San Jose-based playwright Scott Munson began discussions last year, Evans expressed her interest in Americanizing and updating "An Ideal Husband." Asked why he chose 1959, Washington, D.C., to reset the play, Munson responded: "The original is set in London at the turn of the century, the height of the golden age of the British Empire, the end of one era and the beginning of another. There was a certain complacency about being the greatest nation in the world and feeling that one's decisions would impact history in the grandest possible way. So everyone is very unselfconscious about being the "rulers" rather than the ruled. I wondered what was the American equivalent of all that. It seemed that Washington D.C., at the end of the 50s, before Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, the political ferment of the next decade, might also be seen as the high water mark of confident American power and influence. As Washington is the nerve center of American political life, that was a fairly easy choice."

"I find Scott's sensibility a perfect match with Oscar Wilde. Scott never met an aphorism he didn't like, and he peppers his dialogue with clever contemporary references, much as Wilde did," says Evans.

Munson's adaptation retains almost all of the jokes and keeps the storyline largely intact from Wilde's original. Speeches are shorter in Munson's version, conforming more to punchier and brusquer American rhythms. Wilde's characters are quite recognizable in their American personae, with a notable exception. The one brand new character is Roosevelt, the butler at the Chiltern house. When Munson envisioNed Washington of 1959, it seemed almost a certainty that the Chiltern's butler would be African-American, and it became clear to him that there would be an element of racial tension and commentary outside Wilde's own universe of master-servant relations. Once the idea for Roosevelt popped in his head, it seemed impossible to Munson that the butler would only be a silent character who made cocktails and collected coats. "He almost immediately announced to me that he wanted to be a moral commentator on the actions of the show. The Oscar Wilde that was standing at my shoulder totally agreed, so I just tried to follow along and make it happen as best as I could."

" 'Morality' is only the attitude we take towards people we can't stand." Rosalind Cheveley

DMT is thrilled to have a top-notch design team on board for "An Ideal Husband," with credits from theatres in the Bay Area and beyond, including the Guthrie, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Magic, Cutting Ball, Shotgun Player and Word for Word. Michael J. Locher is the scenic designer, Allen Willner, lighting designer, Don Tieck, sound designer, and Daisy Neske-Dickerson, costume designer.

"An Ideal Husband" premièred at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket on January 3, 1895, and transferred to the Criterion Theatre on April 13, 1895. Unfortunately, after Wilde's trial for "gross indecency" began, the show's first run was cut short after 124 performances. There have been numerous revivals of the play, notably director Sir Peter Hall's London revival that successfully played Broadway in 1996 and, locally, Cal Shakespeare's 2008 revival. Over the past six months, a dedicated group of actors workshopped the play at DMT and Munson's adaptation continues to evolve.

Photos by Terry Sullivan

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