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The Wilde Side 

Oscar's wit is perfect in this Ideal Husband

It is said that Mark Twain once sadly remarked to his wife, who had just spewed a string of choice vulgarities at him: "Livy, you know the words but not the melody." Such is also the case with many theater companies that tackle plays by that musician of verbal japery, Oscar Wilde. They say the words without capturing the underlying rhythms.

But in An Ideal Husband, the Great Lakes Theater crew spins Wilde's witticisms into a seamless symphony of laughter. It's mixed with just enough social relevance to give the whole enterprise more heft than you might expect.

At first, it seems that Sir Robert Chiltern is "an ideal husband," a paragon of virtue adored by his wife and all of London. But the snarky Lady Cheveley blackmails him with a letter from his past, indicating that he traded state secrets for filthy lucre. As Chiltern the paragon morphs into paradox, the blackmail seems to be working — until Robert's best friend, the idling dandy Viscount Goring, manages to intercede. Meanwhile, Rob's lovely, feisty sister Mabel is dodging one relentless suitor while pursuing the hard-to-pin-down Goring, cheered on by Goring's dyspeptic father, the Earl of Caversham.

This all happens in the hot-house environment of elegant London society — made up, as Mabel notes, of "beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics." And this is where Great Lakes earns its "Oscar." Director Sari Ketter and choreographer Helene Peterson emphasize the music from the outset, moving the servants to composer Michael Keck's soundscape with ritualized yet amusing solemnity. In a similar vein, the actors, in large roles and small, find the melody lines of their characters with unerring precision.

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