UNITED PLAYERS OF VANCOUVER
AN IDEAL HUSBAND
By Oscar Wilde
Denis Comey, Director
Joan Bryans, Producer
Jericho Arts Centre
April 3 - 26, 1998, 8 pm
Tickets $10 and $8 for seniors and students
1675 Discovery & N.W. Marine Dr.
Tickets & Information 224-8007
Witty Wilde Uses Humour to Expose Society's Hypocrisies
by Roxanne Davies
By now the story of Oscar Wilde's life is well known. After being praised for his works, such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windemere's Fan, Wilde was accused of homosexual relations with Lord Alfred Douglas and was sentenced to two years in jail. He died a short time later in Paris, a sick and sad man. Yet he died with his wit intact. His dying words were said to be "It's the wallpaper or me, one of us has to go."
Sitting in the cramped and musty hall of the Jericho Arts Centre, it was as though I had an inkling of the stifling and narrow-minded atmosphere of the last years of Victorian England, a society which created and then ultimately destroyed this talented writer and playwright. Despite the crowded seating and the musty atmosphere of the utilitarian heritage building, the production of An Ideal Husband by United Players, was a delight. Replete with gorgeous costumes, wonderful wigs and a large, talented cast that admirably carried the witty repartee that Wilde was famous for, the 2 1/2 hour play went by very quickly. It was a wonderful tribute to the author who preached the importance of style in both life and art.
An Ideal Husband tells the story of a powerful political figure who is threatened with destruction by a secret past. This theme seems quite familiar to anyone following the recent travails of Bill Clinton. But set against the backdrop of a rigid class system, it's obvious that Wilde was trying to expose the hypocrisy of Victorian society.
Sir Robert Chiltern, a rich and successful politician, built his fortune on a dishonest act. As the play opens, he is being blackmailed by Mrs Cheveley, who wants him to politically back a questionable money-making scheme. Faced with his past and confessing to his wife, who has always considered him the ideal husband, pure of nature and intent, Sir Robert turns to his friend, Lord Goring, for help.
The drama of the social intrigue is combined with witty high comedy. The lines are simply delicious:
"She married a second time. People marry as often as they can. It's quite fashionable!"
"Talking about nothing is what these people know something about."
"We have married perfect husbands and for that we are being punished."
"Nothing ages a woman faster than marrying the general rule."
Robert Bruce played handsome Sir Robert with polished sincerity. When he unfairly tells his wife it's her fault making the mistake of making an ideal husband of him, you could sense his desperation at keeping his beloved wife. Mrs Chiltern, played by Lori Jovick was the perfect foil for her troubled husband. Gracious and demure, Jovick played the role of the good wife carefully. But the really interesting roles are usually those played by the villains, in this case, the evil courtesan, Mrs. Cheveley, played by Jane Noble. Swishing about in hot pink gowns and flowing black capes, Noble was excellent as the fashionable blackmailer who tells Chiltern that even he is not rich enough to buy back his past.
Lady Markby, played by Andree Karas provided one of the most entertaining scenes when the three ladies indulge in some gossipy, pompous chatter. Her clear and beautiful diction was a delight, and she admirably recovered with a funny adlib when she almost lost her hat.
Matthew Blackwell Kinney plays the dandy Lord Goring with great energy and he ultimately saves the day and wins the attentions of the beautiful Mabel Chiltern in return.
Scene changes were cleverly orchestrated in full view of the audience by the officious butler, Mason, played by Ed Nordhagen, who directed the other servants to musical accompaniment, and the final curtain call was amusing and surprising.
Amusing oneself was of utmost importance in Wilde's London society, a city populated by "beautiful idiots", dowdies and dandies, where the women were beautiful and the men pompous. While writing this play, blackmailers were also closing in on Wilde and as he was writing the lines "sooner or later we shall all have to pay for what we do". They no doubt resonated with his own situation. But in the end, Wilde forgives Chiltern with the words "No one should be entirely judged by their past." Wilde was also forgiving himself.
Wilde's plays will live on for a long time, to be appreciated by those theatre-goers who appreciate satire, the well-crafted line, and a clever plot. An Ideal Husband is perhaps his most autobiographical play, but unlike his own life, the play ultimately ends on a happy note.
Copyright 1998 Roxanne Davies