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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 28,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `An Ideal Husband’
After you see "School for Scandal," Sheridan’s
delicious expose of gossip and malicious behavior in 18th-century
London, at McCarter Theater, you would be remiss not to venture up
to Paper Mill Playhouse to see "An Ideal Husband," Oscar
equally nasty comedy of blackmail and scandal in 19th-century London.
It is rare to see these two perfectly suited sex and schemes-driven
gems performed in the same time span — and so smartly.
1895 began as a banner year for Wilde, who had two hits, "An Ideal
Husband" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," running
simultaneously on London stages. It ended as a bummer, however, when
Wilde went on trial for perjury and sexual offenses. His conviction
and imprisonment led to the premature closing of both shows, as well
as the well-received New York production of "Ideal Husband."
Curiously, and until Peter Hall’s London revival of "An Ideal
Husband" in 1992, the play had become more of a rarity than
or any other Wilde play. Nothing could please me more than another
opportunity to see this epigram-studded melodrama, and so soon after
seeing Hall’s acclaimed production on Broadway in 1996.
The last few years has brought about an unprecedented interest in
"An Ideal Husband," with productions springing up virtually
everywhere, as well as on film. So who would have thought it the ideal
play for the Paper Mill Playhouse? Granted, it proves a stretch for
many in the audience, who took longer to respond to the torrent of
Wilde-isms, than one might wish. This may be the fault of James
too studied and formal staging of Act I, in which incidental
stand, pose pretentiously, face front, and provide the play’s
in the most stilted and dull manner. Once this opening section is
past, the play, propelled now by its principal players, perks up with
spit and polish.
If Warwick’s vision avoids the darker subtext of Hall’s production,
the performers, for the main, plunge into the cheeky matters and
with aplomb. In so much as it is a critic’s job to take notes, either
mental or written, I found myself, typically too dazzled by the
epigrams and wonderfully irreverent bon mots to ponder on their full
meaning during the rush of the goings on.
But here’s a beauty. The stuffy old Earl of Caversham
(George S. Irving) asks his glib, if frightfully right, son Lord
(Daniel McDonald), "Do you understand everything you say?"
To this, the amused Lord Goring replies, "Only if I pay very close
attention." This is certainly what one must to do to fully benefit
from this subversive critique of Victorian attitudes and institutions.
Standout is Irving, whose career in theater goes back to the original
Broadway cast of "Oklahoma," and has over the years become
a Paper Mill favorite. He livens up many a talky time with his
While "An Ideal Husband" is saturated with enough wit and
wisdom to boggle the mind, it also lingers willfully and skillfully
in its prescribed social and political milieu. It is a very serious
comedy, dealing as it does with the dishonorable past of a now
and honorable politician. Unlike the New York production, the Paper
Mill production has affords the play all the resplendent decor and
costuming the play richly deserves. The chandelier-lit, ornately
various morning, noon, and night rooms provided by designer Michael
Anania provoke as much admiration as Wilde’s words eventually do.
"An Ideal Husband" begins with the lords and ladies of
Belgravia who have gathered at the end of London’s social season.
These elegantly mannered, though ravenously indiscreet, gentry are
at it again in the formal reception room of Sir Robert Chiltern’s
(David Ledingham) house in Grosvenor Square. The plot is quickly sent
spinning through other rooms where some dirty laundry is getting an
airing. It is no less than blackmail that reunites Chiltern with a
woman from his past, the scheming adventuress Mrs. Cheveley (Stephanie
Beacham). Yet it is the devoted yet devastated Lady Chiltern (Fiona
Hutchison) who must unite with the wise idler Lord Goring (Daniel
McDonald) to save her career-threatened husband and thus disentangle
a scandalous web spun from power, money, and sex.
With refreshing originality, McDaniel substitutes Lord Goring’s
excesses for a boyishly savant behavior that could easily appeal to
women. Beacham, who is best know to American audiences as Sable Colby
on TV’s "Dynasty," chooses not to go over the top as the femme
fatale, Mrs. Cheveley, except when it comes to David Murin’s
revealing gowns. Ledingham and Hutchison are excellent as the
and endangered Chilterns. Stephanie Cozart is both coy and cunning
as Mabel Chiltern, in love with Lord Goring. It’s all so marvelously
convoluted and melodramatic, so fitting in this day where sleaze
with such ease into our political and social affairs, and yet so
— Simon Saltzman
Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. $37 to $60. Continues through March
Brookside Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343. A free symposium led by Wilde
scholar Patrick M. Horan and the cast of the current production of
"An Ideal Husband." Free, no reservations necessary.
March 13, 7:30 p.m.
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