Cameron Folmar as Lord Goring in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of An Ideal Husband, directed by Keith Baxter.
Photo by Scott Suchman.
It’s easy to write a negative review. Nothing provides material like anger and loathing. Excellent stuff is somewhat harder – there’s a lot of ways something can be good. If you want a real challenge, though, the thing to tackle is purely, simply, boringly middle of the road.
Shakespeare Theater Company’s An Ideal Husband is tough to write about.
There’s stuff to like here. STC’s usually impressive sets are more stunning than ever. The costumes make the average royal wedding look like a fashion show put on with Goodwill rejects. The music is enjoyable, if sometimes a little over-present in the first act. You’ll have plenty of time to appreciate and ponder it all during the first half of the show.
An Ideal Husband is Oscar Wilde’s examination of how an outwardly, exceedingly moral man with a shameful secret deals with the threat of exposure and ruin. The first act drops us into the middle of a party at the Chiltern home, where Sir Robert will soon be confronted with someone looking to blackmail him. The politician who wears a rigidly pious face while having an unpleasant history is certainly one that has potential to resonate with a D.C. audience. But aside from some audience chuckles on the easy lines it never seems to go any deeper.
Emily Raymond as Mrs. Cheveley and Gregory Wooddell as Sir Robert Chiltern in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of An Ideal Husband, directed by Keith Baxter.
Photo by Scott Suchman.
Everyone is technically proficient enough but it’s hard to shake the sense that a misstep has been made. Oscar Wilde, plodding and slow? There are laughs here and there, particularly in the third act when the series of misunderstandings come so fast and furious that you think Mr Roper is bound to show up at any moment.
But in the end it never quite comes together into a single piece. The play’s massive exposition dumps don’t do anyone any favors, if you’ll forgive me a moment of heresy against Mr Wilde, but what is provided are a number of points of contrast and counterpoint that the show never uses to its advantage. Lord Goring is a gadabout playboy who rarely utters a serious word or takes a firm stance on anything. Yet he shows himself to possess the casual integrity that Sir Robert wears on his sleeve but lacks beneath the surface. Goring’s eventual pairing with Mabel, who similarly is exactly who she seems to be, should work as the opposite number of the Chilterns and their marriage filled with mystery. But they feel more like things that happen in proximity to each other than as part of a whole.
So it all just rolls along, filled with perfect beauty but no sense of soul. Which is a pity, but damn it’s nice to look at along the way.