Oscar Wilde's distinct blend of wit and drama find a firm footing in The Underground Collaborative this month as Company of Strangers presents its staging of An Ideal Husband. Ralph Williams is compellingly conflicted as Sir Robert Chiltern--a man who is being blackmailed into making a bad decision due to an immorality committed in his youth. Karen Elizabeth Sharkey musters a great deal of authority as his wife--a woman who couldn't possess bay imagine her husband capable of immortality. Noelle Thompson deliciously plays bemused disinterest in the role of the woman looking to blackmail him. Thompson is excellent in the role--conjuring a very dark undercurrent lurking beneath a very poised and polished, cordial exterior.
Coming to Chiltern's aid is a very charismatically rumpled Rob Schreiner as the professional layabout Lord Goring. Schreiner’s comic instincts gently tug Wilde in a few different directions that don’t often get used in Wilde. He’s a bit like a vintage Warner Brothers cartoon character in places, but he’s able to sell the irreverence quite well. He’s got a look to match the irreverent swagger. Earlobe plugs and hand tattoos don't normally go along with Wilde, but Schreiner makes it work as a charming man who takes great pride in his iconoclasm. The look also goes quite well with the costuming.
Head costumer Barb Hummel took a bold direction for a staging of Oscar Wilde. The steampunk-inspired costuming may not be entirely out of place in London in the 1890s, but it's not exactly aesthetic that one associates with the playwright. Hummel and her team of customers do such a good job of making really extravagant-looking. Minor details aside, the wash this and vibrant variety of these wealthy Brits are wearing in the 1890s is so beautiful that it’s easy to overlook the goggles and gears and things as they blend into a visual reality that makes its own kind of sense. On the intimate stage of the Arcade Theatre in the Underground Collaborative, Hummel's costuming doubles quite well as scenic decoration. It's gorgeous stuff, particularly on Noelle Thompson. (Femmes fatales always end up with the best costuming.)
There are quite a few enjoyable performances around the edges including Paul Pfannenstiel's robust authority in the role of Goring's judgmental father. Julia Marsan is sparklingly irreverent in her own right as a girl who is quite taken with Goring.
Company of Strangers' production of An Ideal Husband runs through Sep. 30 at The Underground Collaborative on 161 West Wisconsin Avenue. For ticket reservations, visit Company of Strangers online.