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Theater review: Civic Players give audiences another chance to love Wilde

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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For Gazette theater writer Bill Buell's preview of this show, click here.

‘An Ideal Husband’

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and next Thursday; 8 p.m. March 26-27; and 2:30 p.m. March 28

HOW MUCH: $15

MORE INFO: 382-2081 or www.civicplayers.org

— I checked my notes. Yes, indeed. Laura Andruski, the director of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” now at Schenectady Civic Playhouse, also directed Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” at Albany Civic Theater not long ago.

Hmmm. Will she turn her gimlet eye toward another English social satire soon, say “School for Scandal” by Sheridan? I hope so. She has a knack for this sort of thing.

“An Ideal Husband” immediately precedes Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and if you know that play, you’ll be at home in this one. We are treated right away to a gallery of the rich at the house of Sir Robert Chiltern (Jonathan Janssen) and his wife, Lady Gertrude (Meighan Carivan-Esmond), posing and dishing, uttering pronouncements about their own empty, but comfortable, lives and the behavior of their class.

Fly in ointment

Into this snooty society comes Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Melissa-Putterman-Hoffmann), a childhood school chum of Gertrude’s who is about to destroy the status quo by blackmailing Sir Robert, a member of Parliament. (As this particular twist emerges, you can not help but think of contemporary scandals — Spitzer, Edwards, and Woods among them — social notables whose personal choices, rightly or wrongly, tarnished their public images.)

Into the breach steps a rather unlikely hero, Lord Goring (Randy McConnach), a well-to-do ne-er-do-well who hasn’t quite figured out a reason for living, except to have fun, much to the consternation of his old man, Lord Caversham (William M. Sanderson). Over time, young Goring makes some decisions, counsels others as sincerely as he can and, amazingly, finds love with Mabel Chiltern (Sarah Wasserbach), Robert’s sister.

If “The Importance of Being Earnest” breezes along on mistaken identity, ironic twists, bons mots, and that delightful old gasbag Lady Bracknell, “An Ideal Husband” seems more like patchwork, a not completely successful stitching together of the serious and the silly. The witticisms amuse; they puncture pretension; but sometimes they get in the way of a story we really care about, one involving characters, not just types.

Andruski might have taken scissors to some of the clever repartee; the evening runs three hours, with intermission.

The cast looks terrific in Pat Casey’s costumes, and they deliver their lines with the proper sincerity of the pompous — prompting chuckles. Jennifer S. Depew is deliciously imperious as Lady Markby, and Marc Destefano, as Phipps the butler, makes his little count a lot. Wasserbach scores, especially in Mabel’s last act conversations with McConnach’s Goring: a comedic spark! Jannsen and Carivan-Esmond make us care about this couple struggling with his youthful crime.

Other worthies

The dashing McConnach relishes every moment on stage, playing broadly at times, but always with panache, and he somehow makes us believe that Goring is growing up just a bit. And Putterman-Hoffmann is riveting throughout, gesturing economically, delivering her lines in such a manner that we know this woman — of all the characters — is going to get to the bottom of things on her own terms. In Putterman-Hoffmann’s portrayal, Cheveley reminded me at times of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren, a female forced to reinvent herself to get by in a man’s world. It’s a three-dimensional performance.

For lovers of Wilde, here’s a worthwhile chance to see him yet again.

 
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comments

March 24, 2010
10:35 a.m.
thomwrite says...

Always enjoy this reviewers perspective: informative, historic, and generous. Certainly a delightful night out at the Playhouse and in downtown Schenectady.

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