James Stewart Reaney

James’s Brander Newer Blogger

Maybe An Ideal Husband is really two plays going Wilde at the Stratford Festival’s Avon Theatre this summer.

So looking at it that way, when Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband opened on Thursday May 31, the pre-intermission “play” turned out to be a Masterpiece Theatre/Downton Abbey 85-minute (or more) slice of late 19th-century political scandal at an elegantly empty-souled party.

That “play” (the first two acts of An Ideal Husband) stars Tim Campbell as the blackmail target Sir Robert Chiltern, Sophia Walker as Lady Gertrude Chiltern (his wife) and Bahareh Yaraghi as the scheming Mrs. Laura Cheveley who plots their ruin.

All those characters are also in the  “second” play — but it is a crazed comedy dominated by full-time dandy and idler Lord Arthur Goring, who is played to ‘born to be a Wilde-man’ perfection by Brad Hodder.

Half and half

The occasional chuckles of the “first” play turn into laugh after laugh in the post-intermission hilarity (actually acts three and four in the Wilde work). Goring/Hodder is amusingly bedevilled by his no-nonsense father (a brilliant change of pace for the great Joseph Ziegler) and bewitched by his beloved Miss Mabel Chiltern (a merry Zara Jestadt, who matches Hodder quip for quip during their quick-witted courtship).

Under Lezlie Wade’s direction, An Ideal Husband takes a long time to set the stage in the first half before flying off the laugh meter in the second half.

In the final moments, Wade brings the two “plays” together as the Downton crossed with Ibsen makes way for Goring to show his worth as a friend, and the married Chilterns left to wonder how they landed in such a mess and how to survive it.

Notables

Director’s note: “Oscar Wilde himself grappled with the ending of An Ideal Husband. His rewrites for this play are more extensive than any other he wrote. In the end, he chose to believe that love was the answer.” — Lezlie Wade

Laugh lines: “An ideal husband! Oh, I don’t think I should like that. It sounds like something in the next world.” (Mabel Chiltern)

“Life is never fair, Robert (Chiltern). And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” (Lord Goring)

Get thee to An Ideal Husband: if you love witty lines delivered deftly or sumptuous sets and earnest Brit drama with Victorian costumes and ace drollery.

Divert yourself to another play: if you never cared for Downton Abbey or epigrams.

Geeking out

Brad, Brad, Brad: Not to obsess about Hodder’s excellence but the actor was v. good as Darcy at the Grand a few seasons ago and was also The Angry Inch’s Hedwig elsewhere on the stage. That’s range.

Pop culture thought: Could Big Bang’s Sheldon be a descendent Of Goring — they both love to talk about themselves.

London on the soundtrack: Violinist Mel Martin and cellist Julia MacGregor are heard in the recorded score by Fest composer/keyboardist Leslie Arden. The Masterpiece-ish music is used effectively during elaborate scene changes.

Details: Approx. runtime: 181 minutes including intermission.

Continues at Avon Theatre until Oct. 28.

Visit stratfordfestival.ca for more.

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