|Photo by Scott Suchman|
My son and I went with other homeschoolers yesterday to see the Shakespeare Theater's production of Oscar Wilde's The Ideal Husband. Although I have not read the play, my family recently saw the very funny film adaptation starring Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver, and other favorites. We all laughed our way through the film. So when we entered the theater this morning, I was expecting a light-hearted romp more or less along the lines of the movie. As the curtain rose on an absolutely magnificent set, there was nothing to shake my initial assumptions.
During the first act, the play seemed subdued--much more than I expected from Wilde. I made the assumption that the performance was off to a slow start. But as the second act developed, it became clear that the directors had made a decision to override (to a degree) the comedic elements in the play in order to emphasize the seriousness of the moral questions raised in the play. Although the plot line is of course the same basic plot as we see in the movie, lines that are delivered as ironically or as trite amusements in the film are here explored with incredible emotional depth.
Don't get me wrong: Wilde's play is full of witty dialogue ("To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance") and there is a great deal of superb comedic acting in this production (especially by Floyd King and Cameron Folmar). Still, the humor of the play does not in any way mask the seriousness with which the characters address questions of whether it is acceptable to be deceitful in one's private relationships (including to one's spouse), when it might be acceptable to hide one's past in one's public position, and how the two venues intersect. One could say the theme of this play more than any other is "the importance of being earnest."
This production of The Ideal Husband addresses the importance of honesty about one's own flaws and missteps, but it also hammers home the idea that it is dangerous for us to believe that our spouses are perfect and always moral. Wilde emphasizes the necessity for the granting of true forgiveness in the face of genuine apology. And he offers us a portrait of how a marriage between two loving people can weather a breach of trust and arrive at a place of true healing.