Putting it as simply as I can, Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband is the crowning pleasure of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2009-10 season. Everything works.
The direction by company veteran Jeremy Dubin is tight, focused and, except for some slippage into cheap farce in the third act, spot on. Design elements (tasteful drawings rooms by Melissa Bennett; late Victorian costumes by Heidi Jo Schiemer) are more sumptuous and elegant than any CSC has ever presented. Performances from all — particularly Kristopher Stoker, Sara Clark, Matthew Lewis Johnson, Kelly Mengelkoch, Corrine Mohlenhoff and Sherman Fracher — maintain the lilt, audacity and inner laughter of high comedy. Added to that, the production represents a rare opportunity to see something both old and new.
Seldom produced, the 1895 script is just as packed with verbal gymnastics and pithy wit as its done-to-death contemporary, The Importance of Being Earnest. But this is a stronger script. Given a production as tuned and toned as this one, it makes a richer evening of theater.
Earnest is all sunshine and aphorisms with barely enough plot on which to string the verbal zingers. An Ideal Husband is actually about something worth discussing. What, it ponders, makes for an ideal marriage partner? Is he or she some bepedastaled paragon of relentless virtue? Or is the ideal spouse more human, more touchable, more capable of forgivable error?
Wilde planted his wit-driven discussion inside a plot tangled with greed, stolen letters and political misfeasance. In the process, he created his one true-to-her-evil-self villainess, Mrs. Cheveley, played here by Mohlenhoff with just the right level of cheek and glee.
At one point Stoker’s charming character, Lord Goring, quips, “I always pass along good advice. What else is one to do with it?”
Indeed. So here’s my good advice: “Go! Enjoy a rare treat!”
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