Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Ideal Husband"

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entire contents copyright 2008 by Tony Annicone

"The Ideal Husband"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The Gamm Theatre's second show of their twenty fourth season is Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband". Written in 1895 and in this version set in London in the 1920's, this show is a comedy of manners, a mystery and a love story all in one. It explores romance, marital relations, friendship, blackmail and political intrigue. Sir Robert Chiltern, a popular Government minister, seemingly has a 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. He passed information on to a stock investor, Baron Arnheim, who believed that wealth gives a man power, making the baron four million dollars in the process. As Robert struggles with his fear of losing his marriage and his reputation and morals over a bogus Argentine canal scheme concocted by Cheveley, he learns his best friend, Lord Goring, an idle and irreverent bachelor, had an affair with this woman years earlier. (His take on life is that a woman is a genius in the daytime and a beauty at night.) 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. ( An innocent note she sent to Lord Goring is misconstrued by Cheveley who thinks she is having an affair with him, seeks to ruin Gertrude's reputation in high society by blackmailing her and mailing it to Robert.) The play contains a modern day look at Cheveley's blackmail schemes, the similarities to the insider trading scandal by Robert's passing along government secrets for money as well as a look at Gertrude placing Robert on a pedestal where the only way to go is down because her expectations are so high. Director Judith Swift directs this 19th century play which is set in the early 20th century and performed in the 21st century brilliantly, keeping the pacing of the lines moving constantly and seemingly all the performers, too. She also chooses 8 excellent performers to portray these parts, entertaining the audience with its comic and dramatic power to the utmost. This powerhouse show also has 2 fabulous sets and some breathtakingly gorgeous costumes, too.

Judith delves into the characters, showing the audience what makes them tick, helping them to understand the way London society people behaved. (She is a big Obama backer and she is interested in watching Michelle Obama being so "authentic" during the campaign by not portraying her husband as perfect but as a normal human being.) The lessons of the past are to be learned for the present and the future as well. Judith focuses her actors every time they appear onstage, making every one of their movements build the suspense or comedy of the scene. She understands Oscar Wilde's world perfectly, displaying her expertise at her craft. Brava. She surrounds herself with the best technical people as well as performers, too. Set designer Kristina Brown and Kate Hecht's magnificent sets for the two acts is astounding. From the Chiltern's opening drawing room with a gold and brown decor with two white shelves, armchairs, a table and platform stairways to a rose colored library with two ornate doorways, a front door and a rose chaise, each scene change done in seconds without missing a beat in the show. (They also handle the multitude of props for the show.) The 1920's costumes are expertly done by Marilyn Salvatore with Kate Dennis-Skillings as the costume/wardrobe coordinator. The colorful frocks worn by Mabel, the gowns for Cheveley, Gertrude and Lady Markby are fantastic in their ornateness. Matthew Terry creates the wonderful lighting, especially effective are the slow fades on the character's faces at the close of each of the four scenes. Hard working stage manager, Stef Work keeps things flowing beautifully during the entire show.

Jim O'Brien plays Sir Robert who is blackmailed by the evil, Mrs. Cheveley played by Jeanine Kane. (Her husky voice in this role is reminiscent of Kathleen Turner.) Jim does a great job as the tortured, powerful British politician. (A word of praise for dialect coach, Wendy Overly with impeccable accents from all this cast.) He handles the emotional turmoil of a well known figure beautifully, first by unbelieving anyone would know about it then to berating himself and finally to blow up at his beloved wife. Jim explains the misdeeds of his youth shouldn't deter him from his current goals but he must atone for it with his wife. Although Jim plays the comic part of the role to the hilt, it is his angry confrontations with Cheveley, Gertrude and Arthur that stand out. Jeanine, a lovely brunette is excellent as this diabolical creature who oozes smarminess in her actions. From her husky speaking voice to her arched eyebrows to her looks of askance at the creatures around her, Jeanine creates an unforgettable character.( she is dressed in red and then black to let the audience know she is a villain.) Her putdowns of Robert and Arthur are cleverly done with her acting most praiseworthy while her character is detestable. (I booed Cheveley at the curtain call for a job well done.) Casey Seymour Kim who is a fabulous comedienne, sinks her teeth into this meaty role, fleshing out Lady Chiltern perfectly.She is the wife of bygone days who puts her husband on a pedestal but in the end realizes that no one including herself is perfect. Casey captures the essence of this pure, innocent and idealistic woman wonderfully and her tears at the end of the confrontation scene is poignantly performed. Gamm's artistic director Tony Estrella turns in a dynamic performance as the carefree, bon vivant, Lord Arthur Goring. His past intrigue with Laura Cheveley leads to some interesting repartee in the present day. Tony's role calls for constant energy and he delivers the goods whether it is a comic or dramatic moment. He usually plays dramatic parts so it was a pleasure seeing him be very comedic in this show. Some examples include his disdain of listening to his father, his constantly avoiding the advances of Mabel until he becomes the pursuer and his constant astonishment at the speedy entrance of his butler when he rings for him. Tony is also an excellent director in his own right but in this play he has some of the funniest lines, delivering them perfectly every time.

Alan Hawkridge, a professor at URI ( I first reviewed him as a director during "Les Liaisons Dangerouse") is hilarious as Goring's domineering father, the Earl of Caversham. He appears feeble at first, pursuing Mrs. Cheveley from chair to chair and another humorous aspect to the character is in the second act when he continually sneezes at the draftiness of his son's house. Alan blusters about berating his son's laziness, admonishing him constantly. Karen Carpenter plays Robert's sister, Mabel, the girl who finally captures Lord Goring's heart. She is dressed as a flapper, with her brown hair in a bob. She plays the coquette who continually talks about being proposed to by Steven Standish but from her looks of adoration at Lord Goring, the audience knows he is the one she really wants as a husband. Karen has many witty lines, delivers them with ease and one of the funniest bits is when she sneaks drinks of liquor without anyone catching her. Another lively cast member is Irene Handren as Lady Markby. She is shrewd enough to realize there is no such thing as an ideal husband because her husband is a very dull and boring man. Irene has many great one liners putting down the men of the time and commenting on how society views women. Lady Markby however is fooled by the evilness of Laura and her hatred for Gertrude. This is Irene's debut at Gamm but she is a well seasoned theatre veteran, having run her own theatre company in New Mexico. R. Bobby plays Goring's whirling dervish of a butler, Phipps. He delivers the mail and unknowingly lets the wrong woman wait in the other room so she is able to hear secrets from Sir Robert, getting Lord Goring into hot water. R. runs into and out of the room quickly while delivering his humorous dialogue while doing so. So for an expert look back at topnotch Oscar Wilde production, be sure to catch "An Ideal Husband" at the Gamm Theatre. They always do fantastic work and this is another feather in their cap.

"An Ideal Husband" (6 November - 7 December)
172 Exchange Street, PAWTUCKET RI
1 (401)723-4266

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide