Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wilde thing

The new production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband playing at the YMCA Central Square (it closes this weekend) is, I suppose, far from ideal - but you'll still be tickled pink by it. Only four actors (at left) perform all the parts in this sparkling comic melodrama, which leads to much crossing of dress and gender, and predictably broad, Hasty-Pudding-level gags. Which, I have to admit, hardly serves half the script, in which Wilde cross-pollinated his usual glittering wit with a surprisingly sophisticated and touching moral POV. In this production, however, you can forget all about subtext and subtlety, which is too bad - and causes the final sequences in the play to drag in the wrong way. But what you get is the wit - broadly played, it's true, but still a hoot; the show reminds you of those funny college shows in which all the class cut-ups would chew the scenery with self-confident charm.

Of course half the time, the kids are not alright, because they're throwing on gray wigs and pretending to be fifty (and you don't believe them for a minute). What's worse, whenever Wilde turns world-weary, somebody inevitably tromps on in drag to shred the gossamer atmosphere that makes this play so haunting and unique. You just have to wait through these parts. Don't worry, the script will soon re-focus on Wilde's dazzling powers of paradoxical conversation, and the show will soon get funny again - quite funny. And to be honest, even half a great production of An Ideal Husband is better than most theatre companies could manage.

The cast is uniformly clever and energetic, but Sasha Castroverde probably takes top honors for a combination of hilariously broad drag roles as well as the one "serious" performance (as the rigidly moral Lady Chiltern) that manages to touch us. Adam Kassim, as Wilde's putatively hetero factotum Lord Goring, is perhaps even wittier than Castroverde - and the priceless way he kills time during somebody's costume change with a chess match against himself has to be seen to be believed; but his sparkling, blithely self-aware youth isn't quite right for his sadder, more-experienced character. Likewise Anna Waldron carries off her ingénue role with surprising charm - and even convinces you that she and Goring could make a go of it - but is simply too young and transparent to convince as the scheming Mrs. Cheveley (perhaps Wilde's most intriguing villain). As her flawed, but basically decent victim, Tom Giordano is sympathetic, but again lacks the gravitas the part requires - and alas, he doesn't get enough stage time in a frock to impress us with his skills at farce (although what he does do is certainly worth a giggle). Costume designer Wendy Misuinas deserves praise for devising some pretty-convincing Victoriana that can be thrown on and off at will, and director Daniel Morris demonstrates he knows his way around an epigram. And sometimes with Wilde, that's enough.

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