River Rep, the professional New York repertory theatre company's fourth show of their 19th season is Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband". Written and set in London in 1895, this show is a comedy of manners, a mystery and a love story all in one. It explores romance, marital relations, friendship and political intrigue. Sir Robert Chiltern, a popular Government minister, seemingly has the perfect life: a successful job and a beautiful, devoted wife. But his impeccable reputation and loving marriage are both threatened when femme fatale, Mrs. Cheveley shows up at their dinner party with evidence of immoral behavior in Robert's past concerning the Suez Canal. As he struggles with his fear of losing his marriage and his morals over a bogus Argentine canal scheme concocted by Cheveley, Robert learns his best friend, Lord Goring, an idle and irreverent bachelor, had an affair with this evil woman years before. Robert's wife Gertrude finds out she doesn't have an ideal husband but learns that one's love and trust currently will win the day over past mistakes. The play contains a modern day look at Cheveley's blackmail and the similarities to the insider trading scandal by Robert's passing along government secrets for money. Director Stephen Kunken directs this 19th century play brilliantly, keeping the pacing of the lines moving constantly. He also chooses 12 topnotch performers to portray these parts, entertaining the audience with a powerhouse show with 3 fabulous sets and some breathtakingly gorgeous costumes, too.
Steve delves into the characters and shows the audience what makes them tick, helping them to understand the ways society people behaved. He blocks the scenes beautifully, keeping the actors moving in and out of the scenes with ease. Steve's strong direction comes through in making sure the actors are always focused every time they appear on stage. He also surrounds himself with the best technical people, too. Tony Andrea's magnificent set design for three different settings is breath taking. From the opening Octagon room with gold decor, a chandelier, two wall sconces and two candelabras and a majestic portrait to a morning room to a rose colored library, each change of scene is done in seconds without missing a beat in the show. The gorgeous gowns worn by the women in the show are by Darlene Davis and the wonderful lighting is by Marty Vreeland. Stage manager Rychard Curtiss keeps things flowing beautifully during the entire show.
Warren Kelley plays Sir Robert who is blackmailed by the evil, Mrs. Cheveley played by Jean Tafler. Warren does a great job as the tortured, powerful British politician. He handles the emotional turmoil of the character beautifully, conveying how one can act foolishly when young and now must pay for the misdeeds of the past. Jean, a lovely brunette is excellent as this horrible creature who oozes smarminess in her actions. She captures her diabolical persona perfectly and makes the audience detest her despicable behavior. Susan Riley Stevens plays Lady Chiltern, the wife who puts her husband on a pedestal but finally realizes that no marriage is perfect. She captures the essence of this pure innocent and idealistic woman wonderfully and her tears at finding out her husband isn't perfect after all is poignantly performed. Susan is a strong actress who gives this ingenue a backbone and strength the role needs. Owen Thompson turns in a dynamite performance as the carefree, bohemian Lord Goring. His role calls for a constant energy and Owen delivers the goods whether it is a comic or dramatic moment. He has some of the funniest lines in the play and delivers them perfectly.
Evan Thompson is very humorous as Goring's domineering father, the Earl of Caversham. He blusters about berating his son's laziness and admonishes him constantly. Vira Slywotzky plays Mabel, the girl who finally captures the heart of Lord Goring. She has many witty lines and delivers them with ease, evoking many laughs along the way. Mabel continually talks about being proposed to by another but Goring is really the one she wants. Vira does a wonderful job as the coquette. Some of the other lively cast members include Joan Shepard as Lady Markby who is an older woman with clever insights about her boring husband, Michael Cohen, a recent high school graduate, is a hoot as the straitlaced, stiff backed butler, Mason who gets stuck waiting on everyone all night long, Arthur Pignataro has some great one liners as Goring's droll butler, Phipps, Michael McCoy as the skirt chasing French, Vicomte de Nanjac and Daina Schatz and Erin Renee Smith as the two giddy married women looking for fun at the dinner party. So for a look back at 1895 London, be sure to catch this clever glimpse at the more things change the more they stay the same in "An Ideal Husband" performed expertly by River Rep at Ivoryton Playhouse.