Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review of Ghostlight Ensemble's An Ideal Husband

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An Ideal Husband. It was by Oscar Wilde and it was directed by Holly Robison. It was about a man, Robert Chiltern (Aaron Wertheim), and his wife, Lady Chiltern (Madeline Pell). They throw a dinner party and end up inviting a woman, Mrs. Cheveley (Sam Bianchini), who tries to blackmail Sir Robert into helping her promote a financial scheme in parliament. Robert tells his friend Lord Goring about this, and Lord Goring decides to help him. Sir Robert's sister, Mabel (Halie Merrill), is in love with Lord Goring but is going about it by being mean to him. It is about the "duties" of a wife, avoiding accountability, and the ultimate powerlessness of women. I think this was a very interesting take on a troubling and old-fashioned play. It is funny up until the end, when the play goes to another level of sexism, but I could see how the production was trying to show the problems with sexist ideas.

This play has a lot of very sexist ideas. By the end of the play every single woman has lost any power they had, and Wilde seems to think this makes a happy ending. He thinks that wives should be loyal to their husbands, no matter what the husband's flaws or mistakes. Mrs. Cheveley is somebody who abuses her power at the beginning of the play, so you kind of feel like she deserves to lose her power. But you also see that this seems like the only option for her to get what she wants. She is excluded from politics and most jobs. I'm not saying that what she did was right, but I do think she has some reasons for it. Lady Chiltern at the end of the play is basically convinced by Lord Goring to take back her husband and support him in his new job even though she thinks it would be better if he didn't take it. That was kind of infuriating to me, but it wasn't like they could change the ending of the play. They can just change how she reacts to it, and they did initially make it so she seemed offended by the entire prospect. I don't think that forgiveness is unreasonable, but I do feel like women should not be obligated to accept the lies that they are told. Lady Chiltern shouldn't have to do all the work because she is not the one who messed up. Even though Mabel gets what she says she wants at the end, I am worried about what he married life is going to be after Lord Goring's speech to Lady Chiltern. It seems like she might be expected to do the same things Lord Goring told Lady Chiltern to do, which doesn't seem like what she would want in the end because she is a very spunky and modern-minded woman. I do think the show did a good job of acknowledging that there was sexist dialogue without changing the dialogue.

This production made you feel like you were part of the world of the play. Mason and Phipps, the butlers, were played by the same person (Michael Wagman) and in this production, the butlers were sort of the narrators and spoke directly to the audience. At the beginning, Mason would say who was coming into the room and what their status was. His lines were taken from stage directions and that was very interesting. It was a nice introduction but also they are very funny stage directions, which you normally wouldn't hear. I think they ended up adding quite a bit of clarity because there are a lot of characters in the play, and they all have posh-sounding names, and a lot of the ladies don't have first names in the program--they are just "Lady." Also, the play was done in the Berger Park North Mansion, a real house built near the time the play premiered, which was very interesting because it immersed you in the entire party in the first act and made you a character in the play. It also makes the set (by Sam Gribben) look very realistic because it was real. The costumes (by Stefanie Johnsen) also contributed to the immersion. The points they were trying to make about the show were new, but they still tried to immerse you in the time it was set in.

This show has some really great classic farce moments in addition to witty banter. There's a classic but funny misunderstanding joke where Lord Goring is talking to Robert about how the woman in the other room loves him and only wants to help him, and he assumes Lady Chiltern is the one in the other room, but it turns out to be Mrs. Cheveley. The audience knows it is Mrs. Cheveley, and so does Robert, but Lord Goring thinks he knows who is in there, but doesn't. The look on Robert's face when Lord Goring says the woman is in love with him is absolutely priceless. Also, when Lord Goring's father, Lord Caversham (Richard Engling) shows up he asks his son immediately if there is going to be a draft in the room they are about to enter. And when his father finds out there really is a draft, he has a very violent reaction to it. He starts yelling at him about getting married, even though that doesn't have anything to do with the draft. I thought it was funny how all of his anger at his son built up throughout this one scene. There is also a lot of witty banter in this show. One of my favorite moments is when Lord Goring and Phipps were talking about the triviality of the flower in Lord Goring's buttonhole. Phipps tells him that the florist has recently suffered a loss in the family, which may explain the lack of triviality in his most recent buttonhole. Also, Lord Goring has a fabulous line where he says that what is unfashionable is what other people wear. It is funny because it is such a confident thing to say and Lord Goring has enough confidence for ten people.

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classic plays, immersive theater, and trivial buttonholes. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a funny show that has layers to it. It makes you mad at the characters at the end, but it is funny and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I really liked it.

Photos: Maria Burnham/Ghostlight Ensemble

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