BWW Review: APT Chooses Ideal Season to Stage Wilde's Entrancing AN IDEAL HUSBAND
In a year when the country tries to discern the truth about numerous politician's pasts, presents and futures, Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband attempts to make some sense of blackmail and corruption in the government institutions and individuals who serve their citizens. American Players Theatre takes their audiences Up The Hill for Wilde's summer visual delight. This fascinating production captivates the eye along with the ear dressing the cast in lavish period costumes designed by Matthew J. LeFebvre amid a cream and golden gilded stage, period rooms, courtesy of Scenic Designer Takeshi Kata.
Before the opening dialogue and throughout the performance to change acts or scenes, the cast twirls and poses in affections reflecting the English upper class, another visual treat from Choreographer Jessica Lanius. Accomplished Director Laura Gordon masters these technical elements and her cast from Wilde's 1895 comedy produced just before The Importance of Being Earnest--two productions where the word play and plots ring ever true.
In Wilde's story, Sir Robert Chiltern, an imposing David Daniel, sold a government secret for position and wealth in his youth--several decades before his rise to becoming a major player in British Parliament. On the eve of a significant political decision, a past acquaintance Mrs. Cheveley returns to England threatening to expose his youthful indiscretion and ruin his now sterling political career and personal life. Gertrude Chiltern has placed her husband Robert's morality on a pedestal and their friend Lord Goring appears as the pleasure seeking, unemployed 34 year old--often believed to voice Wilde's witticisms surrounding London society--who eventually saves the day by his own charming, unaffected means.
Marcus Truschinski imbues his Lord Goring unprecedented flair, with touching and heartfelt concern for his dear friends, the Chilterns. As the hardhearted, practical woman, Tracy Michelle Arnold personally duels for Lord Chiltern's morality with a icy edge and clothed in gorgeous gowns while she also tempts Lord Goring, an old lover.
The wife who worships her husband, Gertrude, was touched with warmth, even though Wilde wishes her to appear overly judgmental, by Colleen Madden, especially in the final scenes when Robert's and Gertrude's love for each other triumphs all-and Wilde then includes a love match between Lord Goring and Mabel Chliltern, Jade Payton, who finds no ideal or perfection in Truschinski's Goring. And certainly prefers her match this way when she says, "An ideal husband, I don't think so..he can be whatever he wants. All I want is to be a real wife to him."
As two members of the British upper crust, Cristina Panfilio, Lady Basildon, and Greta Oglesby, Lady Markby, offer the paradoxes society provides them in their social discussions as a pair of friends who exchange tit for tat, often holding the keys to Wilde's gritty words. In the meantime, Lord Goring's father Lord Caversham, a debonair Jonathan Smoots, tries to offer sage advice to his son, often to no avail, although he succeeds by the final scene.
Underscoring the exceptional acting and technical craft underlies Wilde's greater questions: how responsible is a person, yes, even a politician, for his past misconducts? And when can the public or his family assume someone's mature personal or political history reflects less corruption and represents his/her true nature? Wilde wrote: "Sooner or later we should all have to pay for what we did--although no one should be judged by their past."
One could rip these themes exactly from today's headlines--and wonder if anyone's career could stand up to even Lord Chiltern's exemplary positions after a dangerous mistake. Are there any ideals left in political life? Even the two love matches in Wilde's play suggest that imperfection might be far preferable to perfection in personal matters, marriage and romance--humanity is after all merely human, forgiveness and love divine. However, in these concerns of personal and professional honor--does life still hold honor--how does this concern for the greater good of a family, community or country apply?
APT's entrancing and insightful An Ideal Husband delves into these questions, exquisitely ideal for audiences to consider after enjoying Wilde's deliciously humorous wit. In 1895, Lady Markby stated, "Really, now that the House of Commons is trying to be useful, they've done a great deal of harm." Could those be the words of anyone in the audience, too? What will audiences believe in 2017, next season, when a new congress and executive branch ensue? Whose pasts will come to light to lead the way when there are seemingly few ideals in sight?
The English dictionary states several definitions of ideal: satisfying one's conception of what is perfect, most suitable, or a concept or person existing only in the imagination, not likely to become reality; and three, a person or thing regarded as perfect. Just as in WIlde's other play, The Importance of Being Earnest, the word earnest delineates dueling contexts. Return to Wilde's and APT's thoroughly entertaining An Ideal Husband to contemplate how these definitions of "ideal" remain relevant after a century and reflect one's own ideals on an absolutely authentic personal or political life.
American Players Theatre presents AN IDEAL HUSBAND at the Up The Hill Theatre in Spring Green through the summer 2016 season. For special events, performance schedule or tickets to any of the performances, please call: 608.588.7401 or visit: www.americanplayerstheatre.org.