Over the past few months, Oscar Wilde has been figuring prominently in the halls of the N.C. State University Theatre. First, it was the presentation of Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, a play about the life and incarceration of Mr. Wilde in 1895. The theater’s current offering, An Ideal Husband, is a companion piece that reveals that Mr. Wilde’s observations of society and human nature are as relevant today as they were in the 1890s.
The play opens on a society party where we meet Lord Chiltern, a rising star in political circles, and his wife, Gertrude. Lord and Lady Chiltern are seen as pillars of their society. Lord Chiltern is known as a rare breed — a virtuous politician — and his wife Gertrude spends her time volunteering for important causes of the day. Their reputations are untarnished. However, soon after the action starts, we learn that Lord Chiltern launched his storied career by selling a state secret for substantial profit, and thereafter used his new wealth to enter the political scene.
How do we learn of his misdeeds? Well, it’s because of the arrival of Mrs. Cheveley, a gorgeous n’er-do-well who starts tongues wagging as soon as she arrives on the scene. Mrs. Cheveley has made a name for herself as a woman whose questionable liaisons and multiple marriages shock the consciousness of the upper crust of the day. She comes to town to flirt with all of the men, but mostly to blackmail Lord Chiltern with a letter that evinces his misdeeds.
As Mrs. Cheveley plainly explains to Lord Chiltern, unless he uses his position and power to endorse an Argentinian investment scheme that will make Mrs. Cheveley a fortune, she will release a letter written by Lord Chiltern that exposes his dark beginnings. What is a politician to do?!
With the sting of this weeke’s presidential election still upon us, An Ideal Husband frames a discussion about scandal, politics, and being haunted by one’s past. Can one take a moral high road when one has unclean hands? Are individuals forever tainted by their history? Should we be judged by our past deeds or current acts? Should we be judged by both?
Props must go to scenic designer David Jensen and costume designer and director John C. McIlwee. The period costumes and jewels (tiaras, no less) are divine. The set beautifully channels all of the splendor of a Victorian mansion, with oil paintings, fireplaces, and sumptuous settees.
When the curtain first opened, the actors posed in a stunning vignette, all ruffles and lace, and the audience gasped in delight. Each act started and ended with the actors in a tableau, frozen in time, giving us time to appreciate the details of the costumes and set designs.
One of the stand-out actors was Darius Shafa as Lord Goring, a proud dandy who is a perfect foil to Ian Oehring’s Lord Chiltern. Shafa’s narcissistic posing belies a shrewd understanding of politics and the ends justifying the means.
We also loved Kate Williams as Mrs. Cheveley. She was deliciously pragmatic and well-reasoned in her blackmail. Finally, Patrick Seebold’s cameo as Lord Chiltern’s manservant, Phipps, with his tight-lipped “Yes, My Lord” had the audience laughing and cheering with delight.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: The opening scene got off to a slow start; and the party chatter and music from the party could have been a bit softer, as it distracted from the discussions being had by the main characters who set the stage for the story. However, this was a minor flaw in a truly wonderful production that is worth seeing. Head on out to N.C. State University Theatre, so that you can finally learn what truly makes an Ideal Husband (and Wife!).
N.C. State University Theatre presents AN IDEAL HUSBAND at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12, 2 p.m. Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16-19, and 2 p.m. Nov. 20 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.
TICKETS: $20 ($6 NCSU students, $12 students, $16 NCSU faculty and staff, and $18 seniors 60+), except $12 on Community Night (Nov. 16th). BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://go.ncsu.edu/tix-ideal.
PRESENTER: https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/, https://www.facebook.com/ncstateuniversitytheatre, and https://twitter.com/ncsutheatre.
An Ideal Husband (1895 comedy): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Ideal_Husband (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.shawfest.com/assets/10PDF/Shaw_Festival_Study_Guide_An_Ideal_Husband.pdf (Shaw Festival Theatre).
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (Irish playwright, novelist, and poet, 1854-1900): http://www.oscarwildesociety.co.uk/ (Oscar Wilde Society) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Wilde (Wikipedia).
John C. McIlwee (director and costume designer): https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/our-team/ (N.C. State University Theatre bio).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.