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Theater: An Ideal Husband
2006-08-16

This article shared 4295 times since Wed Aug 16, 2006
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Playwright: Oscar Wilde

At: Pretty Blue Sky Theater at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport Ave.

Phone: 773-935-6860; $10-$12

Runs through: September 2

BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE

The availability of a vintage fashion wardrobe might have been the inspiration for transposing Oscar Wilde's 1899 drama from Victorian London to a period blending British and American motifs of the 1920s and '30s—which might, in turn, then have pushed the play's mock-serious tone into screwball farce, with characters crawling behind furniture on hands and knees à la the Marx Brothers. This is a question that only the members of the Pretty Blue Sky Theater company can answer. What is certain, however, is that, on its opening weekend, their inaugural production of An Ideal Husband was not yet ready for an audience.

Some of the flaws marring its second-night performance could be easily remedied with more time and practice: wavering light cues, the sparseness of the set decoration for what the script indicates are to be luxuriously-outfitted homes of prosperous gentry and glimpses of undies in very modern colors ( e.g., teal green ) beneath the period gowns. More problematic, however, are the obstacles raised by adapter/director Bridget Kies' speculative analogies regarding this rarely-done classic.

Take the historical event precipitating the plot: our hero's personal involvement in the Suez Canal negotiations places him and his foreign office colleagues, in 1930, somewhere in the range of 60 years old. Likewise puzzling are the actors' misguided vocal choices: Robert Dennison's Lord Caversham makes no attempt at English dialect, while Catherine Hermes' proper Lady Chiltern and Austin Marie Sayre's ruthless Mrs. Cheveley both adopt an airy falsetto that renders their crucial speeches nearly inaudible, even in the studio's intimate space.

In contrast to the schoolroom ambiance, C. Sean Piereman and Stuart Ritter find the subtle humor in Wilde's satire, bringing to the naive Sir Robert Chiltern and the urbane Lord Goring, respectively, a modicum of dignity. The same is true of Leeann Zahrt and Laura McClain, who respectively light up the stage as the uniformly frivolous Lady Markby and Miss Mabel Chiltern.

There's no denying that Wilde's more conventional dramas are difficult to bring off, their observations demanding an attention to detail in the course of preparation that even the most experienced artistic ventures would do ill to underestimate, as this ambitious fledgling troupe appears to have done.


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