Sunday, October 3, 2010

Not Wilde enough

(Richard Klautsch, left, plays Robert Chiltern and Laura Perrotta is Mrs. Cheveley in the Great Lakes Theater Festival production of Oscar Wilde's comedy, "An Ideal Husband." Photo by Roger Mastroianni.)
Frankly, the Great Lakes Theater Festival production of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" isn't all that ideal. At its best, it achieves a pleasing regional-theater competence. Director Sari Ketter has concocted an economical, highly stylized production that utilizes pastel-lit platforms, rather than the expected antique road-show paraphernalia. On these platforms, the company italicizes and spoofs Victorian starchiness in the manner of automated dress dummies programmed to be relentlessly clever while constantly ringing gongs. It all brings to mind a late 19th-century diorama in a fashion-museum display case. Fortunately, the evening has just enough grace notes to let us intuit Wilde's unfading roundelay of filigreed bons mots and cut-glass romantic intrigues.

There is, however, a melancholic underpinning to the experience that causes us to contemplate a major loss. After completing "The Importance of Being Ernest," one of the English language's most perfect comedies, the madcap Irishman's pen was forever silenced by an undecidedly ungay (in the old sense) gay (in the newer sense) sex scandal. It's akin to Tennessee Williams being forever stilled after the premiere of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Yet there are plenty of compensations. The remaining Great Lakes company seems to be coalescing. First and foremost is Laura Perrotta, sublimely cast as the exquisitely bad Mrs. Cheveley. Ravishing in burgundy finery, she vamps with the gusto of a Lillie Langtry siren. As Lady Markby, the ever-dependable Maryann Nagel has past the stage in her career of femme fatale and now is relishing the more seasoned status of dizzy matron. In last week's "Othello," David Anthony Smith showed his flair for villainy as a Cagney-gone-evil Iago. Here, as Victor Goring, he shows an equal suavity for high comedy playing on Wilde's insouciant verbal wit like a virtuoso xylophonist.

But something is amiss. To soar, Wilde needs effortless ebullience. In this production, you feel the sweat of conceptual exertion.

 Great Lakes Theater Festival performs "An Ideal Husband" through Oct. 30 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

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