Theatre Mirror Reviews - "An Ideal Husband"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi


by Oscar Wilde
directed by Daniel Morris

Mrs. Marchmont/Lord Caversham/Lady Chiltern/Phipps … Sasha Castroverde
Lady Basildon/Robert Chiltern/Phipps … Tom Giordano
Lady Markby/Lord Goring/Phipps … Adam Kassim
Mabel Chiltern/Mrs. Cheveley/Phipps … Anna Waldron

This may not be the jolliest of seasons, but the Hub is offering a goodly amount of theatre-cheer from which you can pick and choose without resorting to a Scrooge or a Nutcracker: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS (American Repertory Theatre, till 3 January), A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre/Boston Children’s Theatre, till 23 December), CHRISTMAS BELLES (Phoenix Theatre Artists/Company One, till 19 December), and THE VELVETEEN RABBIT (Boston Children’s Theatre, till 20 December); should you prefer being part of a dream-state, A.R.T./Punchdrunk’s SLEEP NO MORE continues to drift through its Brookline high school until just after New Year’s --- no two productions are alike; each, good value for your holiday buck. I now include Bad Habit’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND at YMCA Cambridge: Oscar Wilde wrote a comedy-drama concerning one Sir Robert Chiltern, ideal husband and pillar of virtue, being blackmailed for selling a Cabinet secret in his youth in exchange for wealth and status. Mr. Wilde exposes the hypocrisy behind the social masks and further demonstrates ‘tis folly for a woman to idealize her husband: her idolatry can only lead to a disillusionment all the more devastating. The ending is one of irony wrapped in goodness (or t’other way, around) --- small wonder that Mr. Shaw was so influenced by Mr. Wilde’s winking philosophies.

Two years and one month ago, in the same hall, the Longwood Players gave some sterling performances of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (featuring two members of the IDEAL cast); director Daniel Morris goes one better and turns AN IDEAL HUSBAND into a fast-moving romp by trimming the script and divvying up the roles amongst his gifted quartet (nimble of foot and nimble of tongue) and, yes, that does include some gender-crossing. Doubling and tripling in warhorses is nothing new in this age of tight-tight theatre budgets; what makes Mr. Morris’ gamble pay off is that he has worked such presto-chango with material designed to move at a stately Victorian pace. If Mr. Morris is tweaking anything, it is the conventions of that era’s theatre with its flawed Hero and worshipping Heroine threatened by the alluring Villainess and saved by the amusing Dandy who later claims the breathless Ingénue in marriage. I was a stranger to the play and refrained from reading it, beforehand, to judge Bad Habit’s advertised spin on its own terms; I’m happy to say that Mr. Wilde is not betrayed: Mr. Morris, the cast, and their miracle-dressers have blown the dust from the drawing-room and made it all sparkle, again. Twice I held my breath: (a) can the cast sustain such merriment, and (b) have they the emotional bedrock for the lonnnnnnnng, serious passages? In short: (a) yes! they can!; and (b) yes, they haaaaaaaave. I’m afraid Bad Habit has spoiled me: I may find future, traditional productions teddibly dull… Mr. Morris could easily make Mr. Shaw twirl to his tune; now, what could he do with Mr. Ibsen’s canon --- PEER GYNT, for starters?

(In addition, Bad Habit features the works of local artists in tribute to Mr. Wilde; said works line the walls of the lobby and the hall, itself --- my favorite is the HAMLET poster where a pink flamingo on one leg meditates upon a flamingo-skull held in the other.)

"An Ideal Husband" (3-13 December)
YMCA Cambridge, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide