Classical theater fans impatient for the start of A Noise Within’s Spring 2014 season need head a mere five minutes east of ANW’s Pasadena digs to catch Sierra Madre Playhouse’s 2014 opener, an impeccably staged and acted revival of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.
Antaeus Company fans will be in classical theater heaven as well, with Sierra Madre’s latest directed by Antaeus ensemble member (and recent Ovation Award-winning actress) Gigi Bermingham and starring ensemble member Ann Noble, A2 member Lizzie Zerebko, and Antaeus production vets John Combs and Jonathon Lamer. Talk about a production with pedigree!
Noble takes center stage as Mrs. Laura Cheveley, whose lessons in connivery circa 1895 could easily have inspired All My Children’s Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Montgomery Montgomery Chandler Marick Marick Montgomery—minus about nine husbands. Then again Wilde doesn’t fill us in on how many times Mrs. Cheveley got hitched before or after Mr. C.
Lamer costars as Sir Robert Chiltern, whose moral rectitude not only inspires the play’s title, it has won him the heart and hand of the lovely Gertrude, now Lady Chiltern (Gaby Santinelli), whose unquestioning faith in her ideal husband finds itself sorely tested when the russet-tressed Mrs. Cheveley shows up at a dinner party being held in Sir Robert’s fashionable Grosvenor Square home.
Laura, it seems, has gotten herself involved in a crooked scheme to build a canal down Argentine way, and she desperately needs House Of Commons member Robert to come out publicly in support of the canal, a project which he virulently opposes.
As befits any blackmailer worth her salt, Mrs. Cheveley has arrived well armed, in this case with a letter proving that Sir Robert began his rise to fame and fortune with his own bit of chicanery. (While still a young man, the future lord acted on secret information passed to him by Mrs. Cheveley’s then lover and bought stock in the Suez Canal just three days before the British government announced its purchase of said canal.)
Heaven only knows what course Sir Robert might take were he not married to Lady Gertrude, whose absolute faith in her “ideal husband” places Robert smack-dab between a rock and a hard place. Should he refuse to publicly support the Argentinean canal, Mrs. Cheveley will destroy his career and quite possibly send him to jail. If he comes out in favor of it in front of the House Of Commons, his marriage will be toast.
Also figuring in Wilde’s dramedy are the Chilterns’ close friend Lord Arthur Goring (Michael Matthys), Robert’s younger sister Mabel (Zerebko), Arthur’s father Lord Caversham (Combs), and Chiltern family friend Lady Markby (Alexandra Napier), with French Embassy attaché Vicomte De Nanjac (Albert Garnica), Chiltern butler Mason (Ata Farhadi), and Goring butler Phipps (Garnica) completing the dramatis personae.
Anyone who knows Oscar Wilde only from his most produced play, The Importance Of Being Earnest, will likely be surprised by just how dramatic a turn his second-most-popular play takes once Lady Chiltern finds out about her husband’s less than ideal past. Still, anyone in search of classic Wildean bons mots will not be disappointed.
Lord Goring gets the lion’s share of them, scintillating gems like “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” and “I only talk seriously on the first Tuesday of every month. Between noon and three,” and “If we men married the women we deserved… we should have a very bad time of it.” Delicious!
“Delicious” proves an apt description as well for the pitch-perfect performances director Bermingham has elicited from her all-around terrific cast.
Noble has never been more glamorous (or delectably devious) as she is as Mrs. Cheveley, in finely-tuned contrast to Santinelli’s deeply felt moral rectitude as the idealistic Lady Chiltern, the onetime Northwestern University classmates reunited to electric effect on the Sierra Madre Playhouse stage.
Lamer is excellent as always as the painfully conflicted Sir Robert, while Matthys couldn’t be wittier or more charming as Lord Goring.
Zerebko is the picture of Victorian loveliness (with more than a bit of spice) as Mabel, Napier exudes sophistication and wit as Lady Markby, and Combs harrumphs to perfection as Lord Caversham. Garnica ever so subtly steals every scene he’s in—as a foppish Frenchman in Act One and as an ever so proper butler in Act Two. Farhadi completes the cast quite ably as Mason.
An Ideal Husband looks spiffy indeed on the Playhouse’s old-style proscenium stage, from Cesar Retana-Holguín’s elegant scenic design to Maiya Sykes’s period-perfect props to Anna Cecelia Anna Cecelia Martín’s highly effective lighting to Jeff Gardner’s excellent sound design, with Best Of Show honors going to Naila Alladin Sander’s lush, color-coordinated period costumes.
Rachel Berney Needleman is assistant director/dramaturg and Joy Ellison is dialect coach. Kimberly Weber is stage manager, Kelsey O’Keeffe assistant stage manager, and Ben Womick technical director. An Ideal Husband is produced by Sherrie Lofton.
Anyone who persists in thinking of the Sierra Madre Playhouse as “community theater” owes it to him or herself to check out An Ideal Husband, 99-seat plan L.A. theater at its most professional. It’s also Oscar Wilde at his funniest and most dramatic best.
Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre.
January 17, 2014
Photos: Geoffrey Wade