Exploring societal hypocrisy, the defects of inflexible judgment, and the corruptive vices of want and need, Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” creates a dramatic and darkly comical view of human frailty.
Sir Robert Chiltern (Ian Felchlin) is the envy of all who know him. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and a well-liked gentleman, he is the ideal husband in the eyes of his wife, Lady Chiltern (Tisha Lee), who cherishes him for his decency and good virtue.
But when the sinister Mrs. Cheveley (Elizabeth Walker) blackmails Sir Robert with a letter from his past, he finds both his public and private reputations subject to ruin.
Trapped, he confides in his best friend, Viscount Goring (Simon Vahlne), a social maverick and dandified philosopher. The two gentlemen find themselves woven into a net of deceit that may prove the undoing of Sir Robert’s marriage and career.
Set, written and first performed in 1890s London, much of the comedy of the play was said to be absolutely hilarious to audiences 100 years ago.
However, while some jokes are timeless, much of the humor may be lost on viewers in the new millennium. Many of the allusions in the play have had their relevance watered down by nearly 11 decades of distance from their currency.
Luckily, the morality and deeper message of the play sustain a timeless and enduring significance that lives on in this production.
The theater arts department’s presentation of this play, with guest-director Armina LaManna, a GCC and Cal State Fullerton alumna, has a respectable momentum.
Although many of the cleverly placed allusions in the play may be lost to a modern college-age audience, the intelligence and wit that remain are kept intact by the young cast and will draw at least a few chuckles from any viewer.
Chris Krambo’s Set design is a plus. Straightforward and aesthetically pleasing, it provides an attractive, believable environment. As well, the lighting design by Geoffrey McIntosh is adequate in meeting the fairly basic needs of the production.
On the down side, the use of dimmed lights and wavering musical notes to demonstrate lapsed time, is only somewhat effective, at times awkward, and often is just unnecessary. The production would benefit from a more sparse use of this distracting effect.
Still, the convincing acting and good stage presence of the entire cast carries the play past any minor drawbacks. In her role as Mrs. Cheveley, Walker portrays a genuinely detestable, conniving villain that you will seriously wish the worst for.
As Sir Robert and Viscount Goring, Felchlin and Vahlne demonstrate a believable friendship with a convincing level of chemistry. In their individual parts, the two show noticeable development and change in their characters, drawing the audience in.
An honorable mention goes out to George Mackey’s supporting part as The Earl of Caversham, Viscount Goring’s disapproving father. He plays the part with the sort of furtive arrogance you might see in a Tim Robbins cameo.
If not for a visible hesitance in the kissing scenes between Felchlin and Lee, the performances would have been nearly flawless.
Although it would take a time machine, or at least an annotated copy of the script, for the average person to appreciate the full spectrum of this comedy, LaManna and the theater arts department do a wonderful job in revitalizing those aspects of the play still relatable to a contemporary audience.
“An Ideal Husband” is playing on the main stage in the Glendale College auditorium tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Rating: * * * (out of four)