An Ideal Husband
nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
September 6, 2005
Like most of Oscar Wilde’s plays, An Ideal Husband is a “social” comedy that, while very specific to Victorian era issues, still has political and moral parallels to our own media headlines of 2005.
An otherwise fine, upstanding, and progressive London statesman finds himself being blackmailed for a serious financial transgression that occurred 20 years prior, at the start of his career. If his role is exposed, his dilemma is whether to meet the inevitable shame and public ruin with categorical denial, or with the honest fortitude that befits a man of his station. His only alternative, it seems, is to give in to his blackmailer’s demands and commit a crime ironically similar to the first, with no one else—especially his beloved, ultra-virtuous wife—being any the wiser. But can he live with himself?
The production values for Jumbalaya’s revival of An Ideal Husband are generally excellent. Robert Francis Perillo’s direction is fluid, no-nonsense, and faithful to a very specific theatrical style. Stephanie Voyer’s period costumes are lush and beautiful, and there are quite a number of them. The set by Mark Delancey is spare, but the few parlor pieces he uses are immediately evocative of the period; hovering in the background is a giant Union Jack to let us never forget where and when we are. I especially liked Michelangelo Sosnowitz’s snappy, irreverent music between scene and set changes.
Perhaps it was just an off night, but the general level of performance I saw seemed somewhat cold and subdued, almost as if they were going through the motions. There were several occasions of characters speaking so quickly I didn’t understand what they were saying—although I was impressed with the across-the-board facility with dialect. (Robert Blumenfeld is credited as the production’s dialect coach.)
The play worked best for me in the more weighty, dramatic scenes between Christian Kohn, a respectable presence as troubled Sir Robert Chiltern, the “ideal husband” of the title, and his best friend and confidante Lord Arthur Goring, played to aristocratically bored, elegant perfection by Trevor St. John. Carolyn DeMerice as the despicable yet sultry Mrs. Cheveley also has a nice seductive thrust-and-parry scene with St. John, although I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to believe that they had actually ever once been in love.
Of course, none of the characters—especially the women—in An Ideal Husband is very deep or sympathetic, and all of them are mix-and-match recyclables from Wilde’s other plays. Alas, to the detriment of what might otherwise be a strong, likable cast, this production seems to choose being sincere, very relevant fluff over being charming, funny, occasionally relevant fluff. Fortunately, however, plenty of moments filled with the playwright’s trademark timeless wit still come shining through.