“An Ideal Husband”

Play: “An Ideal Husband”

Group: Soundstage Productions

Venue: ArtSpace, 220 Crestwood Court, Sappington at Watson

Dates: August 27, 28, 29

Tickets: $10; contact 314-322-1651 or soundstage@msn.com

Story: It’s an elegant evening at the swank London residence of Sir Robert Chiltern, an esteemed member of the House of Commons, and his wife Lady Gertrude Chiltern, circa 1895. Among the guests are Robert’s friend, confirmed bachelor Lord Arthur Goring; Chiltern’s bold sister Mabel; old friends Mrs. Marchmont and Lady Basildon; Arthur’s father, Lord Caversham; and Lady Markby and her friend Mrs. Cheveley.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until Mrs. Cheveley, a childhood rival of Lady Chiltern, quietly confronts Sir Robert about a political deal he made several years before, a deal that brought him financial security and political acclaim. She has evidence to use against Sir Robert and attempts to blackmail him with it. Further complicating his situation is his wife’s inflexible morality and her pride in being married to the ‘ideal husband.’

When Arthur becomes aware of his friend’s predicament, he sets about making everything right, meeting with his former fiancée, Mrs. Cheveley, attempting to get her to give him the incriminating evidence. At the same time, he finds himself warding off his father’s abrupt demands that he marry a lady of his own and get on with his life in ‘proper’ fashion.

Highlights: Written in 1893 and first performed in 1895, “An Ideal Husband” is another example of Oscar Wilde’s pungent, wry wit and clever way with words that enable his plays to endure to this day. Wilde’s sharp, sophisticated dialogue provides performers with delicious material to shape their own interpretations of his beguiling characters. In the current Soundstage Productions presentation, director Erin Vlasaty and the primary players in her cast capture that style, even within the context of Soundstage’s “Theatre of the Mind,” to offer an evening of enjoyable entertainment.

Other Info: It’s puzzling why Soundstage doesn’t just mount a full-fledged production this time around. Nearly all of the performers have memorized their lines, and the cinema-style screen at stage right features a succession of photos of the performers in stylish costumes of the era. They could just as easily have worn those clothes on stage, eliminated the reading stands and done quite nicely.

Vlasaty understands the subtlety and incisive humor that Wilde possessed and consequently coaches her performers in an engaging adaptation. Most impressive is Jeffrey Dent, who as Lord Goring has all of the witty bon bons Wilde may have supplied to the de facto persona of himself. Dent’s precise delivery of his lines makes the urbane dialogue all the more humorous.

Samantha Haase deliciously conveys the impish and flirtatious qualities of Mabel, while Betsy Bowman offers a finely sketched performance as the devious Mrs. Cheveley. Macia Noorman is very good as the inflexible and uncompromising Lady Chiltern, and Ethan Jones is generally fine as the worrisome Sir Robert, concerned about the impact of the blackmail scheme upon both his marriage and his career, although he’s not quite up to the caliber of the aforementioned players.

The supporting cast is less sure in their interpretations, but the roles are small and they do well enough in their abbreviated moments on stage. Gwynneth Rausch is fine in the role of Lady Basildon, while Tom Moore has his moments as Lord Goring’s daffy father, Lord Cavisham. Others in the cast include Colleen Forest as Mrs. Marchmont, Ann Egenriether as Lady Markby and Terrence Donnelly in the twin roles of butlers Mason and Phipps.

It’s always fun to hear the sharp-tongued dialogue of Oscar Wilde, and this Soundstage Production of “An Ideal Husband” is “readers’ theater” at its finest.

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.