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BWW Review: The Stratford Festival's AN IDEAL HUSBAND Makes for a Delightful Night at the Theatre

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BWW Review: The Stratford Festival's AN IDEAL HUSBAND Makes for a Delightful Night at the Theatre

A delightfully fun and well-cast production of Oscar Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND opened at the Stratford Festival's Avon Theatre on Thursday night. The show is a light-hearted comedy with a bit of an edge, as Wilde's story explores the notion that a woman should forgive a man's imperfections-even if said imperfections involve a serious crime-so long, of course, that the man has not been caught for committing said crime! This conclusion is somewhat unsettling, and the fact that the characters in question are generally likeable has audience members questioning their own morality in the end because, one's knee jerk reaction is indeed to be happy for everyone! Leave it to Oscar Wilde (and director Lezlie Wade) to trick us a fun play that actually becomes a spring board for self analysis and discussion about when it is appropriate to forgive ourselves and others and how we can manage to justify our actions or those of the people we love...when it suits us.

But let's not dwell on the topics of virtue and morality...Let's talk about that beautiful set! The first thing that catches the eye as one walks into the theatre is the stunning set designed by Douglas Paraschuk. Layered with lavish Victorian era finery, including large, rounded open doors that lead from the inside of the Chiltern home to a veranda at the front of the stage. The gorgeous set design allows audience members to immediately immerse themselves into the world of the wealthy characters they will be spending the next 3 hours with.

As we meet the characters that this comedy is centered around, we quickly see that many of them are as lavish as the decorations around them-both in terms of their costumes (designed by Patrick Clark) and in how they think of themselves. It is evident quite quickly that Mrs. Cheveley, (Bahareh Yaraghi) is up to something. We soon learn that she has come to a party at the home of Sir Robert Chiltern (Tim Campbell) and his wife Lady Gertrude (Sophia Walker) in order to blackmail Sir Robert with a letter he wrote years ago, revealing cabinet secrets. This act is the reason he is now so well off, and Mrs. Cheveley threatens to ruin him if he does not speak up, in his role of Under Secretary of Foreigh Affairs, in support of a fraudulent scheme to build a canal that Mrs. Cheveley has invested in. Campbell is great as the successful politician who has just learned that his world may come crashing down from an undetected crime that he had committed many years ago. He looks almost ashen as the realization creeps over him that this thing that he thought was ancient history, has returned to his present. He confides in his good friend Lord Arthur Goring (Brad Hodder) about what he had done and about his fear that his wife, who values honour and virtue above all things, would never forgive him for his actions. Goring, despite some of his own flaws, is a good friend and offers to help Sir Robert and Gertrude in any way that he can. A series of events lead to hilarious misunderstandings and interesting conclusions as the group debates the value of morality and the necessity to gain wealth and power in a world where that seems to be of the utmost importance.

Hodder is fantastic as the self-involved bachelor with a heart of gold. He is ridiculous and hilarious and easy to root for. His scenes with Bahareh Yaraghi's Mrs. Cheveley (who is also excellent, and oh-so-fun to hate) are particularly engaging, as the two former lovers match wits in his attempt to preserve his friend's honour. Sophia Walker's Lady Gertrude Chiltern is also a character that the audience roots for. She is clever and quick witted and when she struggles with her own sense of morality, there is a humour in her vulnerability that is endearing.

The entire company is great, but some other highlights include Joseph Ziegler as Goring's father, the Earl of Caversham. His general disappointment for his son and his strong desire to see his son married are very comedic and Ziegler plays his sense exasperation well. Marion Adler is also delightful as Lady Markby, the resident gossip, who does not believe there is any use to women receiving a higher education. Also great is Zara Jestadt as Robert's sister and Goring's love interest (though he doesn't seem to pick up on that until the end), Miss Mabel Chiltern.

Although the play is enjoyable from beginning to end, the pace and the humour in the latter Acts flow particularly well. Director Lezlie Wade does well to have her actors highlight the humour in Wilde's words rather than make any scene too over the top and farcical. The writing is so clever and comedic that subtleties in some acting choices make the scenes funnier.

Some of Wilde's words are particularly biting and relevant. As Chiltern expresses to Goring how it doesn't seem fair that a mistake he made many years ago be brought up and used against him now, I couldn't help but wonder how many conversations like that are taking place right now in the homes of disgraced men in politics and in the entertainment industry. I also could not help but think of Oscar Wilde's own complicated story and how he was unjustly imprisoned for far less than the crime that his protagonist has committed.

Overall, this play never takes its content too seriously, and makes for a lovely evening of theatre. If you appreciate clever writing, superb comedic acting and a generally fun time, you should certainly go check it out!

AN IDEAL HUSBAND continues in Repertory until October 28th.

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper


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