Past Is Prologue

Oscar Wilde's plays crackle with witty prose, delightful double entendres, and insightful observations about society and its classes. With his trademark pithy abandon, Wilde elevated satire to new levels, proving himself a formidable talent. His plays are an embarrassment of riches full of robust characters and delicious situations. Yet Jambalaya Productions' leaden rendition of An Ideal Husband, despite its sumptuous plot of blackmail, political corruption, and romantic intrigue, never gets off the ground. The play follows the romantic and political entanglements of the esteemed Sir Robert Chiltern (Christian Kohn); his beloved wife, Lady Chiltern (Christina Apathy); their trusted friend, Lord Goring (Trevor St. John); and the woman who stands to bring them all down, the conniving Mrs. Cheveley (Carolyn Demerice).

Mrs. Cheveley, Lady Chiltern's former rival and Lord Goring's ex-lover, arrives intent on blackmailing Sir Chiltern into using his political clout to make her a rich woman. As Mrs. Cheveley threatens to divulge information about Sir Chiltern's unethical past dealings, his secrets come to light, jeopardizing his political aspirations and social standing. Worse still is the threat to his marriage as Lady Chiltern soon realizes her "ideal" husband is flawed. When Lord Goring and Lady Chiltern team up to bring Mrs. Cheveley down, misunderstandings and a classic comedy of manners ensue.

Wilde's biting script is rendered toothless under Robert Francis Perillo's pedestrian direction. Long stretches pass where nothing happens as characters talk while confined to their seats. Wilde's words beg for more, but to no avail, as possibilities for richness and humor are squandered. Perillo flounders, mistaking satire for drama and failing his actors as they struggle to grasp Wilde's sharp repartee.

Demerice gives an energetic but off the mark performance as Mrs. Cheveley, one of the great female antagonists in the theatrical canon. Demerice settles for superficial choices (a seductive glance, a raised eyebrow), making her Mrs. Cheveley nothing more than a one-note villain.

Kohn gives an unsteady performance as Sir Robert Chiltern. His uneven take on the character alternates between bland respectability and hysterical buffoonery. As his wife, the steadfast Lady Chiltern, Apathy never settles into her role, opting for false emotion and dry tears.

There are exceptions. Lian Marie-Holmes is charmingly irreverent as Sir Chiltern's younger sister, Mabel Chiltern. She clearly understands the subtle humor of Wilde's text, scoring many laughs and even creating a believable chemistry with St. John's boorish Lord Goring.

The saving grace of An Ideal Husband is the blithe Lynne McCollough. She is an absolute joy as eccentric society doyenne Lady Markby, breathing desperately needed energy into this lifeless production. The stage comes to life each time McCollough's Lady Markby graces it; she forces the other actors to meet her head-on, raising the bar of accepted mediocrity.

Despite her performance, a great play is lost in Jambalaya Productions' clumsy rendering. With its limp direction and anemic acting, this Ideal Husband deserves a speedy annulment.

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