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Something Wilde 

An Ideal Husband opens CTC's theater season

Oscar Wilde was the world's first genre mash-up artist. He loved comedy, he loved horror, he loved tales of high society, and he loved farce. At any given moment in one of his works, he might dive from drawing room comedy to farce, dash it up with some romance, and maybe throw a villain in for the hell of it. His unpredictability as a writer—and his uncommon knack for scripting consistently deft witticisms—is what keeps his work popular and relevant over a hundred years after his death.

An Ideal Husband mostly focuses on honor and how that ideal fits into society, politics, and romance. The somewhat complicated plot is as follows: Sir Robert Chiltern (a very dignified Jim Mocabee) and his wife Lady Gertrude Chiltern (a strong Emily Cady) are having a very fancy dinner party with some of London's very upper crust. One of the dinner guests is Mrs. Cheveley (a fantastic Kelley Ryan), an old enemy of Lady Chiltern's. Cheveley has come to the party to engage in a bit of blackmail with Sir Chiltern, who initially made his fortune by selling a Cabinet secret that suggested he buy stocks in the Suez Canal days before the government announced its purchase. She wants Chiltern to support a scheme to build a canal in Argentina, a fraudulent one, and if he won't, then evidence of Chiltern's past misdeeds will come to light.

Meanwhile, Chiltern's best friend, Lord Arthur Goring (a scene-stealing Will Futterman) is biding his time as a layabout dandy, but gets pulled into the middle of the intrigue, as Mrs. Cheveley is Goring's first love and destroyer of his heart. His father wants him to get engaged in the next few days, but he can't seem to find the energy to care. Mabel Chiltern (a lovely Annie Trevisan) enters as Robert's sister, a snarky Disney princess, avoiding as many proposals as she can.

All of these disparate storylines combine, with the added intrigue of a stolen broach, mistaken identities, and a lord's honor, to make for a delightful and fast-paced romp through high society. The cultural phenomenon that is "Downton Abbey" should prepare audiences for theater that luxuriates in language. Wilde was a master at writing flowery dialogue that was pointed underneath, showing the aristocracy as shiftless layabouts that only really ever came alive when sniping at each other. The barbs traded in this show had the audience rolling and secretly pocketing a few of them to use against a neighbor or co-worker later.

Director Brian Johnson has staged the show well, in a non-flashy way that brings the attention to Wilde's words more than his direction. The moments of physical humor show remarkable restraint, as the show has sometimes been staged as goofy, while this production rests on the words and performances.

A performance of Oscar Wilde material lives and dies by its cadence, rhythm, and pacing. CTC's production had a rocky first 10 or 15 minutes (which is completely understandable since it was their first performance for an audience), but once the actors all synchronized, the show became an absolute delight, with a wonderfully paced second act and several laugh-out-loud moments.

An Ideal Husband is dialogue heavy enough to probably go over the heads of most kids, but if they are fans of theater, the sumptuous costume design by Kelley Ryan, the stunning set design by Nicholas May, and the subtle and evocative lighting by Jim Mocabee make for a beautiful play to look at, even if the story is out of reach.

An Ideal Husband

7:30 pm, Sept. 18-Oct. 3

Cascades Theatrical Company

148 NW Greenwood Ave.

$15-$20

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