Oscar Wilde’s 105-year-old “An Ideal Husband” is produced at BYU with sets, costumes and an air of silly pretentiousness befitting the iconoclastic comedy.
The scene is the “London season,” a time when the upper-class British would spend all their time socializing. It’s a glib, flirtatious society full of “beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics,” as one character puts it, who seek nothing more than shallow conversation and entertainment.
One such evening is at the home of politician Sir Robert Chiltern (Ary Farhnakian) and his wife, Gertrude (Hailey Smith). They’re a perfect couple, by all accounts, and indeed they seem to think so, until the arrival of Mrs. Chevely (Colleen Marie), a conniving, twice-divorced woman who tries to blackmail Sir Chiltern. She wants him to come out in support of a dishonest venture concerning an Argentine canal; in exchange, she will refrain from producing evidence that Chiltern’s own fortune came from some shady dealings he had while just getting started in politics. Seeking to keep his wife from knowing of his youthful indiscretion, he agrees to Mrs. Chevely’s terms, but soon Lady Chiltern learns the truth anyway, and her image of an “ideal husband” is shattered.
Assisting them both is their bachelor friend Arthur Goring (Matt Biedel), a suave, carefree man who spouts pithy sayings as though he were a living Oscar Wilde quotebook. He’s also very wise, offering outstanding advice to the Chilterns while avoiding his disapproving father (Daryl “Lance” Ball) and subtly courting Chiltern’s sister Mabel (Amy Addams).
Much of the speech in the production, otherwise smoothly directed by Barta Heiner, is a bit affected. This is clearly intentional in some cases — as with the hoity-toity Lady Markby (Celeste Barrand) and her shrill ramblings — but at other times merely seems like actors letting their vocal patterns get the best of their characters. It’s difficult to follow, let alone find humor in, a play in which the dialogue sounds forced or unconvincing.
Matt Biedel is the show’s greatest asset as Goring, the only character who realizes how pretentious everyone is, yet still associates with them. The robust, ample-chinned Biedel is natural and relaxed, easily pulling the audience into the play; in contrast, Ary Farahnakian’s Chiltern often seems to blurt out important decisions without having thought about them first.
Colleen Marie is coldly beautiful as Mrs. Chevely, and Hailey Smith is the very picture of strong femininity. Earning laughs in their small roles are Joshua Bingham as French dandy Vicomte De Nanjac and Jon Liddiard as Goring’s ghostly manservant Phipps.
Intellectual and wordy, the play requires that attention be paid to it. The reward for this effort is a sunny, mildly thought-provoking show with far more substance to it than many of its characters have.
Becky Baird, who was one of the "dressers" (the people who help the actors get into their costumes) wanted me to point out that she did a great job as a dresser. I cannot argue with this: Indeed, no one appeared onstage naked. The same praise cannot be extended to Jesse Harward, the men's dresser, however, as Matt Biedel went through the entire fourth act during the first performance with his zipper down.
Jesse and Becky, along with cast members Ary Farahnakian and Jon Liddiard, were in the Garrens Comedy Troupe at this time and were pulled away from it to do "Ideal Husband." This upset the order of the universe and resulted in many dire consequences.