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Continuing its conversation with Triangle audiences concerning Oscar Wilde and his influence over modern theatre, NC State's University Theatre is producing one of Wilde's two plays that were running during his infamous trials in London. The work is titled An Ideal Husband. This play, a comedy in four scenes, was staged "present day" when it opened in London in the late 1800s. It is a frank and wickedly funny observation on the treatment of scandal in a person's past and the then-current treatment of women in London society.
This period piece, running in Thompson Hall's main theater, is the perfect foil for University Theatre's student performers. In all of Raleigh, there is no better producer of such a work than University Theatre. Given its extensive wardrobe and costume shop; the advantage of having John McIlwee on hand and his expertise with make-up, hair, and sets; and having the entire campus to draw from for these excellent characters; all of these make University Theatre the ideal house for such a production.
The mammoth set that greets the audience upon curtain rise earned applause opening night. This set, the home of Lord Robert Chiltern of London, rises immaculately from the gargantuan tooled rug at center stage. The salon sports two massive and gorgeous paintings on either side, with central atrium doors opening out into a garden with views of downtown London in the background. It is a set well deserving of praise. Kudos to set designer David Jensen for even imagining that such a massive construction was possible. Add to this lovely structure the fact that it converts to an entirely different space for Act II, Scene I, and you begin to understand the perfection of this setting. Then, set in tableaux as the curtain rises, are the sundry guests of Lord Chiltern and his lovely wife, Gertrude. Dressed in the current style of London high society, the lords and ladies that people this work are magnificently dressed, gowned, and coiffed. As mentioned above, John McIlwee pulls double-duty as both director and costume designer. Additional kudos must go to the execution of these designs in the costume shop, led by Emma Reeves-Sirois.
Robert Chiltern (Ian Oehring) has risen to membership in the House of Lords. The party that is being thrown at his home is a political one, and all of the upper echelons are present. Notable among the guests are Lord Caversham (Adam Pflum), who finds he must make excuses for his wayward son, Lord Goring (Darius Shafa0, a dandy who has no time for politics, nor indeed anything else that smacks of work; he is hard at work being frivolous. Hostess for the evening, Lady Gertrude (Teal Lepley), is busy with the guests and only has a brief moment with her husband's much-younger sister, Mabel (Sawyer Davis), who is herself busy fending off proposals of marriage. But while greeting a late arrival, Gertrude is shocked to meet an old schoolmate; her old friend Mrs. Markby (Fara Marin) has brought as a guest a rather unsavory woman of checkered past, Mrs. Cheveley (Kate Williams). Gertrude recognizes her as an old schoolmate, and is well aware of her background. She is left to wonder just what it is that Mrs. Cheveley wants with her guests for the evening.
An Ideal Husband is quintessential Wilde, with some excellently-handled repartee and a solid knowledge of current mores. Wilde reveals his own cunning as regards 1890s intrigue; with all the scandal and talk of blackmail that arise, it only goes to show that nothing has changed in political circles in one hundred years. Simply note the recent election, and who profits and who loses regarding political intrigue and scandal!
Foremost in Wilde's perfect little intrigue are some rather surprising characterizations. Front and center is Lord Goring as protagonist and able defender of his friend Chiltern's honor. Darius Shafa gave a well-turned portrayal of a dandy who uses his idleness as a front to a very acute mind. Matching him in a battle of wits was Kate Williams as Mrs. Cheveley, a devious and unscrupulous woman who uses intrigue at every turn to better herself and her causes. These two led a lively and spirited cast through some of the most twisted reasoning extant as regards political and social mores of the times. Wilde at his best, An Ideal Husband was written at the height of his career. His magnum opus, de Profundis, was soon to follow, but so too was his imprisonment. (A note here to theatergoers: de Profundis will be performed by PlayMakers in Chapel Hill in January.)
University Theatre has given us a sterling example of Wilde's wit and wisdom with a superb cast and divine understanding of English society in the late 1800s. Director McIlwee and a marvelous cast have conquered both the English accent and the English tradition; An Ideal Husband is an ideal evening. Make your reservations now.
An Ideal Husband continues through Sunday, November 20. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.