Thursday, April 7, 2011

Oscar Wilde's The Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband
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.


  1. I've sadly never seen this play live, or any of Wilde's plays. I *have* read this one and The Importance of Being Earnest, though, and i found An Ideal Husband to be far more serious, though definitely with some comic moments. I can see a director taking it either way, playing up the humor like in the movie version, or playing up the more serious moments.

    Did you like the performance? Was it well done?

  2. Yes--loved it! I can imagine that people who were expecting something light might be disappointed--but I thought the exploration of more serious themes was beautifully done. The acting, both the serious and the comedic, was terrific. And both the set and costumes were gorgeous.

  3. I saw this right near the start of the run, and I'm afraid I did find the first act too slow. (I haven't read it, and haven't seen the movie for years.)It's possible that part of my problem was that I was hoping for something lighter. I did like the second act quite a lot and I particularly agree about Floyd King--he's a bright spot in just about every play I've seen him in. (He and Ed Gero are probably my favorite local actors.)

  4. I have read this play but never seen it-it seems more and more people are discovering there is much more to Wilde than The Picture of Dorian Gray-glad you could take your son to it

  5. I was going to say I found it quite funny -- but I've only seen the movie. I probably would have been disappointed, but then again, probably not. I love WATCHING plays.

  6. I would have been taken aback that it was staged more seriously but I would have loved to seen it with that emphasis rather than "heavy words lightly thrown", for the comparison alone. It sounds as if it was well worth it in its own right.


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