An Ideal Husband
During Taproot Theatre's production of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband," I tried to keep track of some of the wonderful witty one-liners but finally gave up, put my pen down, and just enjoyed the play.
Originally performed in 1895, "An Ideal Husband" contains the quaintness of Victorian society in its language and setting, but its issues of character and principle are still fresh today, and are resolved with real warmth and humor.
Sir Robert Chiltern, played by Ryan Childers, is an up-and- coming politician whose career and marriage are on the line when Mrs. Cheveley (Nikki Visel), faced with a political and financial crisis of her own, threatens to expose an old indiscretion unless Sir Robert supports her cause. He and his wife Lady Chiltern (Candace Vance) struggle with issues of ethics and honesty with the help of their friend, Lord Goring (Aaron Lamb).
That sounds awfully stuffy and serious, fitting with our stereotypes of the Victorian age, but "An Ideal Husband" is sharply funny. Underlying the serious moral tone are plenty of the missed connections and miscommunications that make for a rollicking comedy of errors -- and then there's the love story between Sir Robert's sister Mabel Chiltern and Lord Goring.
Aaron Lamb is an absolute delight in the pivotal role of foppish and fancy-free Lord Goring. Moving easily from a silly obsession with the posy for his buttonhole to a genuine devotion to his friends, he captures the magic and complexity of this play.
Anne Kennedy Brady is the fresh-faced Mabel Chiltern. She may look like a gently raised English rose but she's no pushover. And despite her villainous actions and immoral character, Mrs. Cheveley seems like she might be good fun to run away with for a weekend of frivolity.
Oscar Wilde chose stereotypes of the time -- the Dandy, the Femme Fatale, the Upright Wife -- as frameworks for his characters, but then populated them with real people who ring true even today. Nothing is quite as simple as it appears, because, as Sir Robert says, "Truth is a very complex thing."
Oscar Wilde obviously delighted in language, and "An Ideal Husband" requires us to really sit up and pay attention to what is basically a two and a half hour long conversation. And the set and costumes have to support that.
Scenic and Sound designer Mark Lund has given us a luscious parlor with a sparkling marble floor and a backdrop of an enormous oil painting based on Oscar Wilde's original set requirements to frame the dialogue for us.
Designing the costumes for this play must have been a wet dream for Nanette Acosta, and she's done a beautiful job creating costumes that are both pleasing to the eye and subtly supportive of the various character types: Lord Goring is a snappy dresser who obviously knows that yellow is the accent color of the season, and Mrs. Cheveley's slightly mussed red hair and bright purple off-the-shoulder dress beg to be touched.
The set and costumes work together to give the audience somewhere to rest the eyes while the dialogue creates the story. In fact, when the first two characters, Mrs. Marchmont and Lady Basildon played by Adrienne Littleton and Sarah Ware, appear into the parlor from a door in the painting, their costumes make them appear to be part of the painting itself.
Director Karen Lund and Taproot Theatre have a gem in this show. When you go, make sure to visit the second floor before the show starts or during intermission. In addition to putting on their shows, Taproot has a number of other things they do well, from developing community support to special youth programs, and for each show they create a little background exhibit.
Every exhibit I've seen there has been beautiful, well thought out and very informational. Particularly with a period piece like this one the historical perspective adds depth to the viewing.
"An Ideal Husband" has been extended through October 29 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St. in Seattle’s Greenwood district. For info or tickets call 206-681-9707 or visit www.taproottheatre.org