An Ideal Husband
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
July 5, 2012
Let's see… a rich politician who built his fortune and famously noble career by selling privileged information for investment profit stands to lose it all if his dirty buried secret is revealed. Sound like a headline ripped from this week's New York Post or evening news? No, this conflict is central to Oscar Wilde's play An Ideal Husband, being presented by Sink or Swim at the Connelly Theater. Although the setting is Victorian London and the script was written over a hundred years ago, the play is as funny and timely as ever.
The "Ideal Husband" in question is Sir Robert Chiltern, British Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs. His wife, Gertrude, fell in love with his uncompromising virtue, which set him apart from normal men. At a dinner party the sexy Mrs. Chevely (a political insider visiting from Vienna) shows up and charmingly demands an audience with Robert to gain his support for a canal project in her own financial interest. Although he has already publicly sworn to strike down the project in parliament, he fears that acquiescing is the only way to keep his secret from his wife. Intrigue and subterfuge attempts abound to the delight of the audience. Indeed there was a regular laugh track happening around me every few lines throughout the play between Wilde's signature wittiness and the wonderful actors who delivered it.
Leading the cast is the captivating Amanda Jones as Mrs. Chevely who is deliciously evil in her attempts to charm and thwart the other characters onstage. Her antics are suffered by Aaron Gaines as Robert who is near perfect in playing both the highly principled husband/public servant that he is on the surface and the selfishly ambitious character that he is beneath the surface. His best friend, Goring, is played by Stuart Williams. His Goring is less the all-knowing, wise-cracking dandy we're used to in the role but possesses a more sophisticated mixture of guileless naiveté, genuine concern for his friends and a sad acknowledgment that he is not destined to ever be as pure as they are. Together Gaines and Williams are hilarious as they careen between casually tossing off observations and losing it outrageously. Whitney Kaufman as the holier-than-thou Gertrude (Robert's wife) and Jade Anderson as Robert's unmarried and ridiculous sister both have their stellar moments as well.
In the program the producers state that the characters are all "living a life of illusion and lies." They pretend they don't care about things they painfully care very much about. They profess their principles one way and then act differently… every character behaves "out of character" at least once in the play. Lady Chiltern at one point is chided by her husband for setting him up as an impossible ideal and loving him for his virtues, while he argues in his anguish that "It is not the perfect but the imperfect who have need of love." Robert decries the "monstrous pedestal" his wife and society have put him on while he tries to serve them as a leader for their good. With today's abundance of information always readily available to be warped, it is perhaps more timely than ever to question the practice of making gods of our political leaders and loved ones. It is perhaps also time to consider how the virtue of perfection weighs against the virtue of forgiveness. Congratulations to director Michael Hardart and the cast for creating an amusing, relevant, and thought-provoking production… probably just what Wilde intended.