Regional Reviews: Chicago
Regardless, a trip to American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, remains a worthwhile summer project for all the reasons one goes to the "country" or to the theater. This classical theatre company in its 37th season continues to serve its mission of producing the great texts of theater and has opened its mainstage schedule with Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. The resident company performs plays in repertory and I was able to catch the latter two on a weekend trip.
The natural bowl of APT's Up-the-Hill Theatre is far from the bustle of London, but the peaceful and bucolic setting serves the slower paced lives of the 19th century British aristocracy that inhabit Wilde's Husband. The titular husband in the comedy is Sir Robert Chiltern, a member of Parliament whose reputation is threatened when Mrs. Cheveley, an old rival of his wife, returns from Vienna with a plot to secure Sir Robert's support for a questionable canal project in Argentina by threatening to expose a secret about a long-past indiscretion. Chiltern is faced with the choice of betraying his principles or, through exposure of his past misdeed, losing the respect of society and especially his beloved wife. A friend, Lord Goring, who was once engaged to Mrs. Cheveley and has no love for her today, encourages Chiltern to fight back. Complications ensue, but all is right by play's end, with Goringpresumably a surrogate for Wilde himselfsaving the day.
Director Laura Gordon has staged the play somewhat presentationally, with formal dances (choreographed by Jessica Lanius) opening each act to set the stage and establish mood. Her cast of classically trained actors deliver Wilde's still funny, satiric wit with perfect timing. Marcus Truschinski as Goring is a master of dry wit and he makes a perfect foil for Tracy Michelle Arnold's classy but evil Mrs. Cheveley, and Jonathan Smoots provides great character acting as Goring's father, Lord Caversham. David Daniel is an earnest and troubled Chiltern, with Colleen Madden providing a warm Lady Chiltern.
Production design smartly and sumptuously establishes the time and place. Mathew J. LeFebvre's costumes are elegant and completely worthy of the monied classes depicted herein. Takeshi Kata's set design ingeniously places detailed furniture and props of the period in front of a see-through flat that reveals parts of the stage's movable grey walls, even seeing through to the woods behind them. They might be trees in Grosvenor Square in view of Chiltern's homeor we can interpret them as a deliberate meta-theatrical reminder of the beautiful setting in which we're enjoying this play.
Wilde's text seems designed to deliver bon mots that can be enjoyed out of context, in the same way Broadway musicals used to be written to provide extractable pop songs. Even so, who can resist a play that says "to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance," and "Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself" but remains life-affirming with "It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it. And even more courage to see it in the one you love." This seems a perfect production of a classic that is still entertaining and well worth visiting or re-visiting.
An Ideal Husband, through September 17, 2016, at American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green, Wisconsin. For more information or for tickets, visit www.americanplayers.org or call 608-588-2361.