If you want something sensational to read on the train, pick up a copy of the portable Oscar Wilde. Just reading “The Importance of Being Earnest” always makes me exclaim that it’s got to be the funniest play ever written. It will make you laugh out loud as much as any episode of Tosh.o without the gross out. Equally as charming and with a bit more moralistic bite is Wilde’s An Ideal Husband currently running at the Walnut Street Theatre for the next eight weeks until March 3rd. The second most produced of Wilde’s nine plays (Earnest ranking number one) it has had many film versions, the most memorable being a 1947 London Films adaptation produced and directed by Alexander Korda starring Michael Wilding and Paulette Goddard.
It is interesting to note that when Wilde first submitted his comedy to the Garrick Theatre it was rejected but subsequently picked up by the Haymarket in London’s West End opening in January 1895 to April. That month after Wilde was arrested for “gross indecency” his name was publicly taken off the play though it would run at the Criterion Theatre the last two weeks of April. And though it was published in 1899 without the author’s name, this did not seem to staunch its popularity as it had its Broadway debut in 1918 at the Lyceum. And here we are over one hundred years later and we are still delighting in this clever, perceptive look at society and its mores.
Sir Robert Chiltern, a prominent political figure (Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs) is suddenly besieged by a young adventuress, Mrs. Cheveley, who demands that he endorse an Argentine Canal Scheme. A speculation that will soon go up before the House of Commons, Sir Robert knows that it is nothing more than a swindle. But Mrs. Cheveley holds a letter containing proof of an unscrupulous deed in Sir Robert's past (that of selling state information for money and position) and threatens to make it public. Its publication will end Sir Robert's career and he turns to his friend, Lord Goring for help. Arthur Goring, a flawless dandy, whose only occupation is to seek pleasure, not only saves Sir Robert's reputation but turns out to be a man of more honor than our sullied hero.
Ian Merrill Peakes is quite endearing as Sir Robert Chiltern a well-known politician with a sparkling reputation and a murky past and Jenny Eisenhower is refreshingly restrained as his self-righteous wife who learns that no one is perfect. Kate Fahrner is devilishly delightful as the unremorseful blackmailer, Mrs. Cheveley. Lynnia Shanley is scrumptious as Sir Robert's sweetly superficial sister, Mabel Chiltern, who is head over heels for Lord Goring. Ian D. Clarke bounds about the stage with all the energy of Peter Pan as the crotchety, old darling, Lord Caversham, who does nothing but complain about his idle son, Arthur Goring. And Luigi Sottile all but steals the show as the character one would most closely associate with Wilde himself – Lord Goring. It is the showiest role and the most ingratiating. For though Goring poses and preens and boasts about himself, he does it with such self-deprecating humor, that we laugh with him and not at him. And Mr. Sottile's subtle yet strong performance hits all the marks. I kept imagining that I was looking at Oscar Wilde during the play.
This is a three act play that director, Malcolm Black
has wisely condensed into two with only one intermission. And Mr. Black
needs to be commended for the marvelous pacing of this very funny, very
wordy play that moves with great alacrity. There are some slow scene
changes – but there is music while people move entire rooms of
furniture in and out and these will probably pick up speed as the run
progresses. The sets by Robert Andrew Kovach are remarkably
pleasing to the eye – with elaborate Victorian window dressings and
well appointed furniture in muted earth tones. The costumes by Colleen Grady
(excepting for Mrs. Chevely’s eye-popping heliotrope gown) are in
subdued green, gray, brown, peach, beige and blue, color keyed to the
settings. It’s a great play and a splendid production. So if you’ve
never seen it – you should. I could not resist including some delicious
quotes from the play, and mind you these are only from the first scene!
Spoiler alert – below are some of the delectable zingers who will hear.
Lady Cheveley: An acquaintance that begins with a compliment is sure to develop into a real friendship.
Lady Cheveley: I don’t know that women are always rewarded for being charming. I think they are usually punished for it!
Lady Markby: Really, now that the House of Commons is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm.
Lord Goring: I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
Lord Goring: I adore political parties. They are the only place left to us where people don’t talk politics.
Lord Goring: You see, it is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.
Lady Cheveley: In England people actually try to be brilliant at breakfast. That is so dreadful of them! Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
For tickets call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit the Walnut’s website at: WWW.WALNUTSTREETTHEATRE.ORG.
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