Online since August 2002

Ideal is as ideal does

Published October 2007

By Carol Davis


An Ideal Husband
By Oscar Wilde
Directed by Kerry Meads

Lamb's Players Theatre
1142 Orange Ave.
Through Nov. 18

"Sooner or later", Oscar Wilde notes in "An Ideal Husband", "we shall all have to pay for what we do." He later concludes, "No one should be entirely judged by their past." Little did he know that those very words would come back to haunt him.

"An Ideal Husband," Wilde's political comedy currently getting an honest but slow-moving airing at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado, was first produced in 1895 at the Haymarket Theatre and continued with success for 124 performances. Unfortunately, Wilde was arrested for his "gross indecency" that same year and his name was taken off the play. It was later published in 1899, but Wilde was not listed as the playwright. Fortunately, time has a way of making things right and whether it had his name attached to it or not, it had his fingerprints on it from the beginning. Every now and then it's dusted off and audiences are treated to take a hard look at the similarities of the politics of the 19th century and compare them with current-day shenanigans.

An Ideal HusbandAn Ideal Husband
On opening night at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado one was struck by the beautiful period costumes of Jeanne Reith. The gowns alone – in their rich colors of pinks, reds and oranges and greens matching the men's formal tuxes and day suits in Act I, followed by richly matching pieces in Act II– set the mood for an upper-class dalliance of fun, frippery and fancy fitting a Wilde play.

Pulling out all the stops, director Kerry Meads has in her all-star cast both Robert and Deborah Gilmour Smyth (Sir Robert Chiltern, the ideal husband, and Mrs. Cheveley an arch rival of Mrs. Chiltern since their school day together), Steve Gunderson (Lady Markby, a close family friend to Sir Robert and to Mrs. Cheveley), Glynn Bedington (Lady Chiltern, Sir Robert's wife and idolizer), Colleen Kollar Smith (Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert's sister), David Cochran Heath and Rick Meads (Earl of Caversham and his worthless son, Lord Goring who ends up with Mabel), Season Duffy, Jillian Frost, Patrick Duffy and Jon Lorenz (as Phipps, Goring's servant).

Needles to say, this blockbuster lineup, dressed to the nines coming and going on Mike Buckley's handsome and utilitarian set with huge floral arrangements and moveable backdrops, Jon Lorenz's sound design and Nate Parde's lighting, made quite an impression on the audience. The play, with all it's pomp, gives us an insight into the upper-class mischief-making, satire and farce that seemed to dominate their world of little else to do – but not without an underlying point, so typical of Wilde.

But the fun of Wilde is the language, while the message gets through loud and clear. Both genteel and unyielding, Lady Chiltern holds her husband up to unreasonable expectations, demanding that he be the moral bastion of truth and forthrightness in his position as the undersecretary of foreign affairs in the House of Commons. Unbeknownst to her, Sir Robert's fortune and fame was attained by a tainted deal, many years ago, with the former lover of Mrs. Cheveley. She in turn, is blackmailing Chiltern into compromising his moral standards by supporting a bill that is financially unsound, but that she has heavily invested in. If he succumbs to Mrs. Cheveley, his secret is held. If not, he loses his wife, position in high society and his Cabinet post. In any event, even if he wins he loses, since his wife is so rigid that she sees things in black and white only.

Needless to say, the plots thicken, couples come and go, schemes are made and divulged, diversions are planned (as are romances) and Lady Chiltern has to re-examine herself in all this as she, unknowingly, has a secret from her husband that if revealed could compromise her high standards. Wilde plays the gotcha hand with everyone who is anyone in this house-of-cards play where all's well that ends well is the final trump, and Mrs. Cheveley goes harrumphing off into the night with her tail between her legs.

Deborah Gilmour Smyth, just having won critical success as Mother in Starlight's "Ragtime," is precisely on target as the nasty, beautiful and scheming Mrs. Cheveley. I love when her chin juts out in defiance of all those around her when she pulls her ace in the hole, the letter he wrote so long ago incriminating himself, to Sir Robert. Their scenes together are equally matched with a mixture of anger, bitterness and just a little spitefulness.

Meads, who strikes a handsome pose as the bachelor wastrel son has some of the most amusing of Wilde's wit. A fashion plate and ladies man, he is always prancing about like some kind of bird making the most of his position as mediator, friend and confidante or spoiler. He also has some of the most bizarre lines in the play. Talking to his servant, Phipps: "You see Phipps, fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear." "To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance." "Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself." Meads rattles these self-proposed suppositions with the indifference of someone who really believes them, and Lorenz' Phipps is the perfect foil, bored and disinterested. It's good to see Meads home back at his base again.

Bedington's Lady Chiltern is unyielding as the perfect wife who takes no prisoners in her all-too-perfect mind of what an "ideal husband" acts like, and heaven forbid if he should stumble. She is all too convincing, beautiful and persuasive, but when she makes the ultimate mistake she accuses her husband of, there is an attitude adjustment, after a fashion. Her scenes with Smyth portray "the perfect couple." But when their marriage is on the verge of collapse, it takes a bit

of convincing to put their house back in order and their world as it was. And they do.

Gunderson's Lady Markby is simply delicious as he struts around like the symbol of high society, smiling, smirking and making small talk. Talk about a perfect match. If ever there was one, Gunderson has found his niche. Heath is right on as the bumbling Earl of Caversham whose one ambition is to see his son get married. Colleen Kollar Smith is appealing and dazzling as the young bride to be. Supporting cast members come and go and they, too, add to the overall success of this production as they parade in and out of scenes.

Lamb's Players Theatre is doing what it does best and this is no exception. The costumes, the sets and the lesson are all there. My only criticism is that on opening night the play seemed to drag a little. By the time you see it it should be humming along. Wilde is worth a trip across the bridge and this production is worth seeing.

See you at the theater.

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