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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband
Goes Into The Woods

Also see Richard's reviews of Papa, and Putting It Together

An Ideal Husband
Craig Neibaur and Tara Blau
Porchlight Theatre Company is currently presenting their annual summer outdoor classic at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross. The company has presented splendid works from the pen of Henrik Ibsen, which seemed apropos to the tall Redwoods that surround the intimidate amphitheatre stage.  This year, the company decided to present the stylish Oscar Wilde comedy of manners An Ideal Husband as an outdoor feature.

I give the company great credit for attempting such a difficult feat, since this play just does not blend with the great outdoors.  Director Elizabeth Craven is presenting the play without the delicate style of Oscar Wilde's words. Wilde's little witticisms are there, but the style is gone.   The director also has decided to do the complete three-hour version without one single cut.  As a result, some of the scenes become tedious, especially in an outdoor setting.  Some of the scenes, such as the long dissertation by Lady Basildon (Bronwen Shears) at a tea party, go on too long.  Ms. Shears, who is the associate artist of the theatre company, is a very competent Equity actress, but the long thesis on the morals of Victorian society becomes very wearisome.

American actors often seem to have problems doing Oscar Wilde's plays well, especially the little known plays such as An Ideal Husband or Lady Windermere's Fan.  Generally, top flight actors are needed to get that certain drollness of the Irish playwright's works.  This company does the best they can, with some excellent Equity actors doing excellent work in several of the roles. 

Oscar Wilde set his play in the social world of 1890s London and it was a scathing commentary on the world of the aristocrat, the dandy, and political and financial intrigue. The witty piece centers around Sir Robert Chiltern (Rick Eldredge), a man who seems to have it all - money, power, position and wife Lady Chiltern (Rebecca Castelli) who idolizes him.

Sir Robert's world is threatened with the arrival of sinister Mrs. Cheveley (Tara Blau), the only one who knows Sir Robert's shameful secret, and she is determined to destroy him if he fails to do what she wants.  Lord Arthur Goring (Craig Neibaur), undoubtedly patterned after the playwright himself, is a very sophisticated gad about with no position who becomes a hero and sets everything right.

Director Elizabeth Craven has assembled some very good actors to portray the aristocracy. The opening scene is especially good with a lot of "Wildean" witticisms. However, as the play progresses, many of the actors abandon the style of the playwright, turning the pice into an English melodrama. Craig Neibaur (many SF Playhouse performances) is very effective as the "Wildean" dandy Lord Goring.  He portrays the character completely as a heterosexual man, even when speaking Wilde's witticisms.

Tara Blau's (many regional productions including past Porchlight Productions) Mrs. Cheveley wears her opportunism like a second skin in this production. She reeks of evilness.  Rick Eldredge (Dreams of the Salthorse) plays the role of Sir Robert Chiltern with a lot of head tossing and melodramatic tones. Rebecca Castelli (regional companies around the Bay Area) seems a little too young to be playing Lady Chiltern but is effectual with her slight English accent.

Lucy Owen (Los Angeles actress) gives a delightfully daffy performance as Mabel Chiltern. Bronwen Shears does tend to go on a bit in the one-dimensional role of Lady Basildon. As one character says, she does tend to rattle on and say nothing.  Robert Parnell (The Crucible and Smoke and Mirrors at SF Playhouse) plays Goring's disapproving father like a character from a stock company of a past era, but he is very entertaining in the role.

Liz Jahren and Laura Jorgensen are good as Mrs. Marchmont and Lady Markby. Matt Weimer (many Theatre Rhino productions) as Vicomte de Nanjac with a nice fractured French accent is exceptional in the first scene.  He returns later as Goring's butler Phipps. Stephen Pawley (veteran comic actor) is a scream as Mason, Chiltern's butler. He puts all those '30s Hollywood film butlers to shame. 

Opening nights, especially when the company does not have previews, can be stressful to the actors, especially playing on an outside stage. Probably as the production has progressed, they have gotten more into the "Wildean" style of acting.

An Ideal Husband will play through July 16th at the Redwood Amphitheatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross.  The production will move to Petaluma at a later date.  For tickets please call 415-488-7126 or go to there web site at www.porchlight.net.


Photo: Elizabeth Craven


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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