While we are all too familiar with political scandals these days, for the most part they’re no laughing matter. Unless, of course, that scandal comes courtesy of Oscar Wilde.
And the one at the heart of the Irish playwright’s An Ideal Husband, the newest production from Domino Theatre, is a doozy.
Sir Robert Chiltern (Don Mitchell), a member of the House of Commons, and wife Lady Chiltern (Lorna Jodoin) host a dinner party, at which an unexpected, and ultimately unwelcome, guest is in attendance.
Mrs. Cheveley (Anne-Marie Bergman) is not only a longtime rival (since their school days) of the morally upright and earnest Lady Gertrude Chiltern, she comes bearing a dark secret about her husband, an up-and-coming politician. Mrs. Cheveley’s former mentor, Baron Arnheim, once persuaded Sir Robert to sell him a secret — that the British government was to buy the company constructing the Suez Canal so he could invest in it — in exchange for a sizable sum of cash that became the basis of Robert’s fortune.
Mrs. Cheveley arrives armed with a letter that states as much, and she blackmails Robert into changing his mind and supporting a scheme to build a canal in Argentina.
It turns out Robert isn’t the ideal husband after all.
One of the guests at this particular dinner party is Lord Goring (Will Britton), the unmarried son of the influential (not to mention comical) Lord Caversham (Matthew Davis), who urges him to get a job and settle down. Goring, as it turns out, has a history with Mrs. Cheveley, and, as a longtime friend of the Chilterns, offers to intervene.
Goring first tries to convince Robert to come clean to his wife, but he refuses to as he fears she would no longer love him.
Goring then tries to persuade Cheveley to abandon her scheme, but she refuses unless he marries her. It turns out, though, that he has something to hold over her as well.
While this play is brimming with sly witticisms, clever dialogue and cutting commentary, you need to listen closely to catch it all. Thankfully, in this production, the cast is up to the task of making sure you do.
I was particularly impressed with Mitchell’s portrayal of the agonized Sir Robert and Bergman’s vindictive Cheveley. I also enjoyed Britton’s Goring, especially in his exchanges with much taller butler Phipps (Graeme Watson). And I liked Alex Boese’s take on Miss Mabel Chiltern, the funny, younger sister of Lady Chiltern.
Although it was the final dress rehearsal, it could just as easily have been opening night as the actors knew their lines backwards and forwards, and there was hardly a hiccup the entire show. That always seems to be the case with director Claudia Wade’s shows.
And the set, as usual, was cleverly done, as each side of the stage was flanked by rotating columns with different wall colour schemes painted onto them. Not to be outdone, the fireplace in the centre of the stage, too, rotated to signify a switch of location. The only thing that didn’t really work for me, though, was the purposely slow turnover of sets by the “servants.” It was supposed to be funny, I think, but I found the exercise more tedious than tee-hee, especially when the play clocks in at two and a half hours.
Despite its length, the play rarely dragged, thanks to the quality of the performances, which is a good thing. Ideal, even.
An Ideal Husband
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Claudia Wade.
A Domino Theatre production now playing until May 11 at the Davies Foundation Auditorium, 52 Church St. The curtain rises Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 plus Grand Theatre surcharge.
Mrs. Cheveley: Anne-Marie Bergman
Viscount Goring: Will Britton
Sir Robert Chiltern: Don Mitchell
Lady Chiltern: Lorna Jodoin
Miss Mabel Chiltern: Alex Boese