Goodly Creatures to present 'An Ideal Husband' at Elgin Arts Showcase
A dinner party goes off the rails as rich and powerful people deal with political corruption, personal scandal and romance in "An Ideal Husband," a classic comedy presented by Goodly Creatures Theatre that opens Thursday, Feb. 13, at Elgin Arts Showcase.
While such a dinner party seems plausible in today's culture, "Ideal Husband" is based on the 1895 writings of Oscar Wilde. The comedy takes place in 24 hours at a distinguished dinner party of British politician Sir Robert Chiltern. An unwelcome guest, Mrs. Cheveley, attempts to blackmail the unwitting host into a fraudulent political scheme by threatening to unveil the depth of his corruption to the world, and worse yet, his wife.
Enlisting the help of his dearest friend, the clever and dandified Lord Goring, Chiltern must find a way to turn the tables on his newest enemy before it's too late. Katie McClatchey of Willowbrook stars as the alluring villainess, Mrs. Cheveley; Valerie DeGroot of Chicago plays the morally superior and "ideal" wife, Lady Gertrude Chiltern; Greg Waldyn of McHenry plays the ambitious and morally enigmatic politician, Sir Robert Chiltern; and Jamie Ewing of Crystal Lake plays the charming, yet outspoken aristocrat with a distaste for traditional expectations, Lord Goring.
This modern retelling of Wilde's classic comedy addresses political corruption, the facade of propriety in high society and the unattainable ideal of the perfect marriage, said Katrina Syrris, founder and artistic director of Goodly Creatures.
The play focuses on British aristocrats who see themselves as ideal people -- educated, successful and powerful, said Syrris, who also is the play's producer. "Yet, no matter how highly they think of themselves, they are only human, and find themselves discovering their humility in suspenseful and hysterical ways," Syrris said.
Wilde's comedies are famously witty, she noted, and usually poke fun at the aristocrats of his time.
"The play is not only full of fabulous one-liners, backhanded compliments and nail-biting tête-à-têtes, but also focuses on several engaging plot lines and characters, including charming romances," Syrris said.
Wilde also criticizes social traditions such as careers, materialistic values and traditional gender roles.
"The play was absolutely ahead of its time," Syrris said. "It scrutinizes the expectations of Western culture, and how these biases help or hurt our individual causes and identities."
Characters' relationships highlight the complexity of love and cooperation. Although men and women have different traits, they must work together for mutual success in a relationship, Syrris said. "Within each romance is an inherent power struggle that makes the variety of relationships portrayed in the show dynamic, relatable and hilarious!" If the genders don't work together, one will eclipse the other, leading to mutual downfall, she added.
Themes of change, of how values shape choices and how our pasts impact our futures, are all relatable and timeless. Therefore, Syrris heeded Wilde's direction for the setting: "The Present," and modernized "Husband's" staging with current sets and costumes. Because Wilde didn't specify a year, only "The Present," the play can be adapted for any era, making the work truly timeless.
Wilde also was known for inserting a character in each play who embodies facets of his true self, Syrris said. In "Ideal Husband," this character is the outspoken, witty, unapologetically opinionated Lord Goring who is attractive to women despite his somewhat feminine mannerisms.
"He is Wilde's voice in the show, and speaks many indictments of the aristocracy that I'm sure Wilde felt himself, but without the fear of real-life repercussions like Wilde was facing for bucking the status-quo of his time," Syrris said. While writing the play, Wilde, a homosexual, was arrested and imprisoned for "gross indecency" in 1895.
Comedy aside, the play raises the question: Can powerful people also be moral, when they ascended via a path not pure or simple? While those ruthless for power may take "the means justifies the end" route, a person with a strong moral compass would shun that mindset, Syrris noted.
"Once power is attained through immoral means, can morality ever be repaired?" she asked. "I think all of us can relate to managing the light and dark sides within ourselves, and this play poses that personal challenge on a national and political scale as well."
"An Ideal Husband has been a labor of love," said director Rachel Stevens. "This show has definitely had its challenges but I am so lucky to have the cast that I have. They are all powerhouses of talent. And we can't thank the city of Elgin enough for allowing us to grow in this thriving art community."
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Goodly Creatures Theatre presents "An Ideal Husband"
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 13-15, 20-22 and 27-29; 2 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 16 and 23 and March 1
Where: Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., Elgin
Tickets: $18, $15 students and seniors
Specials: 10% off your first cocktail with your ticket to the after party at Martini Room Feb. 13; $3 off your sandwich or entree at the Elgin Public House with your ticket Feb. 29 for the Dinner Theatre Special