I am not one for Politics. Correction, I’m an idealist when it comes to my political views, but more of a realist (okay, maybe a cynic) when it comes to my feelings about politicians. Right or wrong, there certainly seems to be a lot of art that takes on the political realm and often revolves around lies, scandal, blackmail, greed and an assortment of other unsavory occurrences that seem to exist as normalcy in such circles. Yes, the world of “modern” American politics is just as ripe a locale to set Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, as the original, which is exactly what the Douglas Morrison Theatre has done.
Oscar Wilde is certainly one of the most quotable playwrights in history and in DMT’s updated adaptation of this play; a clever mention of Wilde as such is even worked into the dialogue. The task to update a play that has lasted 117 years is a daunting one, but against the backdrop of the changing times of 1959, Washington D.C. , the modernization works very well. The rapid-fire launching of one smooth clichés after another pithy retort, compliments well the sardonic, superficial banter that dominates this production no matter the era its set in.
It’s a cast that looks their parts almost to a fault and the ensemble executes with some really fun, heightened, stylized acting. While at first I didn’t 100% buy into the “reality” of the delivery across the board, the more I witnessed this segment of politicos and debutantes functioning, it actually became more and more “believable.” We’ve got smarmy, privileged, corruption slithering about unabashedly and strangely enough, in an almost civilized and excusable way, because it’s really established as the “norm” in all facets of the production. You may not “like” these characters, but the genius not only of the source work, but this new script, helps you engage and enjoy it rather than it feeling too close for comfort. You’re in essence allowed to “root” for the “bad guy” because they’re all kind of deplorable (and likeable) in their own way.
There’s a lot of wit and an abundance of snark and snobbery in this play that is enjoyable to watch play out, though I think a 20 minute trim could behoove the production immensely. While great lengths seemed to have been made to preserve the original story and sentiment, there were a few characters (though marvelously played) that added little to the plot and seemed to distract us away from the core scandal at hand.
Beyond the comedy and quotable prose there are a lot of deeper, relevant issues addressed directly and indirectly in this piece. A woman’s position in the overall power structure, the pressures of society, public versus private, and forgiveness are all important themes in the original that are well incorporated/updated in this version. Race as well as a few other more “modern” themes are added too and they act as great thicken agents to the plot, really driving home the more current feel of the show and upping the stakes quite a bit. Especially in the second act the pacing really takes off and has the audience’s full attention.
As is almost always the case with this theater the technical production is high-level, creative, clean, makes excellent use of the space and effectively transports us to a specific time and place. Costuming was particularly good, with bold, patriotic, consistent (and flattering) statements made with each well-fitted choice, particularly for the women. I’m always a fan of scene changes that can occur without breaking the reality of the play, and the running crew and Butler did a great job of changing over the sets as “servants.” I also have to give a shout out to the sound designer as well, especially for the song choice taking us into intermission. That type of attention to detail really enhances an already pleasing production.
The sentiment and wit are certainly intact in this show and when it comes right down to it, the dark inner workings of money, power, politics and society haven’t changed since the beginning of time. Overall, 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a slightly dark, but very witty and solidly envisioned play that stands the test of time and of reinvention. An Ideal Husband play through March 2nd a the Douglas Morrison Theatre in Hayward.