Oscar Wilde’s wit finds a warm home
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Fort Wayne is fortunate to have a full and wide-ranging selection of theater options, each bringing something unique to the community. The contribution of allforOne, the faith-based community theater organization, is to bring thought-provoking, sometimes lesser-known works to their stage at the Auer Center ArtsLab.
But their mission also includes the staging of classic works of literature, which is what their current offering, An Ideal Husband, represents. The wit and language of Oscar Wilde is unique and delightful, and with this production allforOne reminds us how, beyond the laughs, Wilde had much to say about people, their foibles, and their road to redemption.
Because Wilde does enjoy language and uses it so precisely, the most important element of any staging of his work is the actors. For these performances, allforOne found a remarkable cast. Timothy Deal (Robert Chiltern), Corrie Taylor (Lady Chiltern), Lydia Tomaszewski (Mabel Chiltren), and Abbey Pfenning (Mrs. Cheveley) all handle their large roles (and lengthy turns of dialogue) admirably, providing much of the play’s entertainment. Mason Dillion as Lord Goring quite possibly steals the show, however, as the decidedly complex but very likable key to the entire storyline. He provides much of the humor in the show, and he does it deftly, making his flawed character perhaps the most relatable. The supporting cast also shines, especially allforOne cofounder Dennis Nichols as Lord Caversham.
With the performances and Wilde’s words front and center, not much else was required. The staging was minimal and changes handled briskly. Although presented in four acts, there were very brief pauses between those acts for scene changes (with the exception of the intermission at the half). Although Lauren Nichols, allforOne’s artistic director and the director of An Ideal Husband, said before the show that the company is in need of a place to work on sets, for this particular show, the simplicity in the black box theater — as well as the intimacy of that staging — was more than adequate to serve the production.
In fact, one challenge which faced the opening night performance was the collapse of a backdrop mostly hidden by a curtain. As the paper began to give way, it was impossible to ignore, but the cast never missed a beat, making it possible for the audience to mostly ignore it as well. Never once did the actors indicate that anything else was happening until one moment when, as Lord Goring was exiting the stage, he grabbed the now crumpled piece of the backdrop and rather dramatically carried it offstage. The audience chuckled, and it was never thought of again.
Although no doubt a distraction to the talented cast, they were able to keep the focus on the stage and not on what was happening behind them, a tribute to their focus and professionalism.
As always, allforOne’s printed program is an underrated gem, without question the best in the city. While Oscar Wilde isn’t exactly an obscure figure, the context for the show provided in the Dramaturgy provided tremendous insight and more food for thought during and after the performance. Audiences should try to arrive with a few minutes to spare to read the program before the show begins. It will only serve to heighten the enjoyment of a delightful staging of An Ideal Husband.