Review by Terry Gaisin
The definition of ‘Ideal’ is [a] a conception of something in its perfection; [b] a standard of excellence; or [c] a person conceived as embodying such a conception. Oscar Wilde’s Lady Gertrude considers her husband Sir Robert just such an icon and his intense love for her pushes him to maintain such a lofty demeanour. Evidence of a youthful indiscretion leads to bribery and blackmail, which may blow away the very foundation of his studied character. Sophia Walker & Tim Campbell are the Chilterns and the interaction between them reflects such a penultimate emotional connection.
They are both superb actors who contribute full measure to Wilde’s dialogue and philosophy, so IDEAL HUSBAND is ‘ideal’ theatre.
Wilde was not only a contemporary of G.B. Shaw, they were friends, so this scribe usually sees his output at the ‘other’ summer Festival. Crossover is progress! Stratford’s Lezlie Wade directs the play with accents on the visual impact as much as the thespian performances. Postures; stances; facial expressions and costuming are as meticulously engineered as is diction.
The Chiltern’s protagonist is the bitchy Laura Cheveley, and Bahareh Yaraghi milks every opportunity to be as snide and obliquely nasty as Victorian mores would allow. She’s scary but fascinating in that she’s a female engaged in a normally male financial struggle…definitely a ‘today’s woman’. Her sneer is much more ‘Bite than Bark’.
Campbell’s character has a best friend/wing-man dandy and Brad Hodder is terrific. An idle hedonist, he has the most elaborate male outfits and some of the best lines. His ‘truth is a complex thing’ resounds especially given today’s stateside political circus. Hodder seems to thoroughly enjoy his useless status and is dedicated to accomplishing nothing. Spoiler alert – he achieves much by final curtain.
In some of the support roles, there are a few standouts. Joseph Ziegler portrays Hodder’s long-suffering father whose frustration with his wastrel son is tangible. Every disappointed parent will identify with his vexation. Lady Markby is Marion Adler; an aging socialite whose role is that of manipulating the adversaries into face-to-face situations. She is constantly pontificating- but with a plethora of malapropisms that adds a little satire to the play. Lezlie Wade‘s direction seems loose-reined allowing the cast members to put their own imprimateur into their character portrayals. Thus, there is a naturalness about their interaction as well as in the idiosyncratic personas they represent. Obviously, sometimes less is more.
Eye candy and a natural talent for facial underscoring is provided by Zara Jestadt who is Campbell’s younger sister. She’s caught the eye of Hodder but he’s a confirmed bachelor thereby adding a secondary plot-line to Ideal; although this love story is obviously the antithesis of a ‘love story’.
Understanding and appreciating Wilde’s message is simplified if one is familiar with the playwright’s own history. Most critics believe, Ideal Husband is autobiographical and may even have been a personal emetic for Wilde. Like Coriolanus; the lead characters are neither all good (Ideal) nor all bad… just humanly flawed and with personal baggage. In other words – they are just like us.
AN IDEAL HUSBAND is at the Avon Theatre.
Curious editorial aside. While waiting for a table at a local restaurant, I asked another patron if she had seen ‘The Music Man’. Her response was “ We’re from Stratford; we DON’T do that!” SAD!