I’m the kind of guy who can’t not have a good time at an Oscar Wilde play. I didn’t give a glowing review to the Walnut Street theater’s production of An Ideal Husband, but I didn’t have a bad time either. If you are already among the converted, go see it. If you are skeptical of your ability to enjoy a Wilde play, this isn’t the one to change your mind.
Wilde’s appeal lies chiefly in an imagined ideal of Englishness. You know the scene: Stately country homes, an ocean of tea, witty banter, labyrinthine romances, cigarettes smoked langorously, elegant menswear, and flowers neatly arranged in buttonholes.
The Walnut Street Theater’s production of An Ideal Husband lacks the country house (all the action takes place in London) and the languid cigarettes (we’ve grown more puritanical about tobacco, if not matrimony). But the rest of the Anglophilic relics are on full display, down to the flowery buttonholes and superb period sets. (It’s a treat just to watch the stagehands rapidly re-arrange the luxurious interiors between acts.)
But something is lacking in the Walnut’s production. The upper class English may have mastered the art of bemused detachment, but some of these actors are too detached from their roles, and their characters are flat and unconvincing as a result. I got the feeling that they’ve seen enough BBC adaptations to imitate the accent, but they’re unable to muster the actual feeling needed to convey Wilde’s witticisms convincingly.