The best theater hands us situations in which, though we may not want to, we see ourselves, and even then only after some reflection. Sometimes that reflection is infused with laughs, until an actor standing at the edge of the stage shows in her face the grief that can arise when trust is destroyed by the exposure of a lie. A lie from which she has, no doubt, unwittingly received great financial benefit.
Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband does this, bringing across the span of a century the same sorts of moral dilemmas some of us grapple with even today. Some things never change, and one of those is the temptation toward wealth and power at the expense of honor. This is with us as much today as it was when the play was first shown in London (the very seat of British wealth and power) in 1895. That is what had us talking over breakfast the next morning, after seeing Marin Shakespeare’s premier of the play last night.
The setting is London high society 1895, but could just as easily be Washington DC 2014, except for an underlying sense of morality beneath the gloss and hypocrisy of that long ago day, that one suspects no longer influences today’s extremes of wealth and power. But I digress. . . .
Our glimpse into that society lingers on Sir Robert Chiltern (Nick Sholley), an influential undersecretary of the cabinet, who had bought his place in society with an act that remains to this day a secret. Until it surfaces in a threat of blackmail by Lady Cheveley (Cat Thomson). He knuckles under, of course, until the secret is discovered by his adoring wife Gertrude (Marcia Pizzo). His best friend Lord Goring (Darrin Bridgett), “a bachelor” offers to help, and the plot entangles itself in a convoluted plot of Shakespearean dimension.
Each of the principal characters is flawed, even the most virtuous Gertrude. Each has some twist of the plot reveal these flaws in their multiple dimensions. And Wilde’s genius is this: each of those flaws we can recognize in ourselves. Some of them make us laugh, others make us think. And if we’re paying attention, we come away with a better mirror to our own selves than we had going in.
Now this might be a personal preference, but I’ve found that any production with Darren Bridgett and/or Cat Thompson in it will make you (a) laugh, (b) think, (c) feel more than you expected, in spite of yourself. Reason enough to check out Marin Shakespeare every season, every year.
But in this season’s An Ideal Husband, Marcia Pizzo’s Lady Gerturde Chiltern (Marcia Pizzo) steals the show. The Lady adores her husband for his idealism, is devastated when he proves a bad fit for the pedestal on which she has mounted him, is conflicted as the target of his anger and (as she supposes) the jilted wife, and then relieved when a lie of her own seems to resolve all the conflicts. All of it shows in Pizzo’s manner and her face, and the catbird seat to catch the best of her acting is up close, center-right. There, she’s speaking to you.
Also don’t miss: Julian Lopez-Morillas as the Earl of Caversham, Lord Goring’s lordly father, harrumphing his disdain for all the weaknesses of his offspring and Goring’s friends, then happily endorsing their faults when at last they all meet his approval.
As An Ideal Husband is sure to meet yours.
Review by David Hirzel