An Ideal Husband
Oscar Wilde’s second most famous play gets a fair airing out at Sink or Swim Repertory this summer. When Mrs. Cheveley (Amanda Jones) unexpectedly re-enters the London social scene, it’s not just to see old friends; she has her eye on Sir Robert Chiltern (Aaron Gaines), whose political favor could make her very rich if her threat to expose an old wrongdoing is made forcefully enough.
In the dark about her tricks, but swiftly made aware, are Chiltern’s wife (Whitney Kaufman, Sink or Swim coproducer), who doesn’t know how to react, and their good pal Viscount Goring (Stuart Williams), who may be the only person who can save Robert from losing his integrity.
The program notes from Sink or Swim Rep position "An Ideal Husband" along with the company’s other featured play this summer, "Proof," as part of a "change season" with Lady Chiltern as the agent of said change within herself. Her willingness or not to bring her husband back into the marital fold, no matter what he might have done as a young green banker, is positioned as the balance point for the whole show.
Yet Gertrude’s predicament -- whether to leave a man who she views as a moral paragon, only to find him flawed -- pales in comparison to that of this viewer’s reaction to how far gender attitudes have moved since "An Ideal Husband"’s 1895 publication. What once could be taken for charm in Goring is accompanied by a heavy dose of mansplaining on the topics of marriage (he is unmarried) and proper womanhood (he is a man).
And how about the very deep implication that the title-less Mrs. Cheveley is cuckolding her husband financially as well as sexually in swanning about London trying to put her aims into practice? (On this account Jones’ habit of hip-swinging her way into rooms isn’t making her character look any more moral, although at least costume designer Ryan Moller didn’t use the ol’ décolletage trick to produce the same effect.)
Stuart Williams as Viscount Goring acquits himself well, perhaps because of a more than passing resemblance to Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold on "Entourage," making side-drawing-room deals and (mostly) maneuvering himself slightly ahead of his peers at all times. But even in his declarations of some of Wilde’s most famously ironic ’lines,’ like, "I never believe a single word that either you or I say to each other," the sense is didactic, not dandy.
Director Michael Hardart doesn’t really reckon with the ways "An Ideal Husband"’s heavy handed morals either clash with or confirm our views on the human condition in this day and age. But it’s not exactly his fault that Wilde’s ending leaves us wondering a little about whether or not Gertrude might have been better off without the help of that busybody Goring, just as Catherine in "Proof" may have been better off without Robert’s shadow over her work. Yet here we are, deeply changed. Well, malfeasance in the financial industry to the top reaches of political power is still with us -- thank goodness for that.
"An Ideal Husband" runs through July 29 at the Connelly Theatre, 220 East Fourth Street. For tickets and more information, visit sinkorswimrep.org.