A man who loves, a woman who learns

By Robert W. Bethune

When Oscar Wilde was alive, he was denounced as an amoral cynic and considered too advanced in his views for the general public. Never mind that his plays were popular successes on the West End. If he were alive today, he would be denounced despite his wit as a hopeless romantic, too idealistic to fit in with contemporary sophisticated ideas.

In Richard Monette's production of "An Ideal Husband" at Stratford, he is revealed as a writer who can turn sparkling wit and an absolute addiction to humorous paradox on the subject of a man and woman who learn under stress who they really are and how to really love each other. The idea that people above the age of five actually can learn such deeply penetrating lessons makes him seem hopelessly romantic and idealistic in our cynical age, which is why we prefer "The Importance of Being Earnest" to "An Ideal Husband." "Earnest" has the virtue - for us - of not being about anything, just like "Seinfeld."

Monette's production sparkles. The set, elegantly designed by Michael Gianfranceso, quite literally sparkles; with a striking chandelier above and much sparkling glass and metal down on stage.

The acting sparkles as well, particularly the wit-combat of David Snelgrove as Lord Goring and Sara Topham as Miss Mabel Chiltern. Dixie Seatle gives a perfectly wicked amoral edge to Mrs. Cheveley, while Tom McCamus and Brigit Wilson bring a more sober, yet still sparkling verbal dexterity to Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern - the two who must learn who they really are and what they really value in order to learn how to love each other as they deserve. To say more would spoil the fun.


'An Ideal Husband'

Stratford Festival of Canada at the Festival Theatre. In repertory, Tues.-Sun., through Oct. 27. Tickets: $40-$108 Canadian. For information: 800-567-1600 or http://www.stratfordfestival.ca.

The Bottom Line: First-rate amusement, and food for thought as well.

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