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Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’ shines light on the topic of marriage at Free Fall Stage in Folsom

By: Eileen Wilson, Telegraph Correspondent
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Every woman knows that her ideal husband can turn out to be, well, a nice enough man, but maybe not so “ideal” after all.

Well, Oscar Wilde had plenty to say about the subject of marriage, and also of the social mores of his time, in “An Ideal Husband,” one of many plays that he penned during the 19th century.

One of the most popular playwrights in London in his day, he is probably best remembered for “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and his novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

For those who know about Wilde, he was a controversial figure – so controversial that he was imprisoned for activities in his personal life; a life that ended before the age of 50.

Lucky for today’s audience, his legacy of social satire and witty, conversational stories lives on.

The ideal husband, Robert Chiltern, played by James Van Eaton, has a great appreciation for Wilde.

“I saw the importance of Being Earnest at the Chautauqua Playhouse last year – I’ve always felt like Wilde was a more acerbic Jane Austen,” Van Eaton said.

Van Eaton is an actor by night, and a bookstore owner (Winston Smith Books in Auburn) by day; a qualified opinion who says that Wilde’s literary style can’t be rivaled.

Witty and satirical are perfect descriptions for An Ideal Husband, according to director, Deanne Eldridge.

“His social commentary on marriage is very witty. Anyone who is married will relate to it,” she said. “Everything Wilde wrote was very good.”

While some people think that Wilde has a very acidic view of 19th Century marriage in London, Eldridge doesn’t think so.

With famous Wilde quotes like, “A man can be happy with any woman as long as he does not love her,” the audience can be the judge.

It’s great fun looking at the playwright’s 19th century ideas of marriage through a 21st century lens.

“He had very strong opinions about social customs of the time – particularly customs of the wealthy. In Wilde’s time wealthy women would change their clothes up to six times a day,” Eldridge said. “Their lives consisted of visiting and social outings. Other than embroidering, their lives were similar to the Paris Hiltons and socialites today.”

Of course, Wilde loved to poke fun at this very thing, with comments like “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

Whatever your thoughts on London’s social mores more than a century ago, there’s plenty to laugh about here.

“It’s about how a perfect husband falls off of his pedestal,” Eldridge said. “A world that is turned upside down by the arrival of an old acquaintance.”

Revelations abound in this show.

“The longer you have been married, the more you will love this play,” Eldridge said.

There will be a special dessert show on February 14 – an evening when the theater will be transformed into dinner-theater style, candlelit seating.

Eldridge said the Valentine’s Day show always sells out, and is popular with both couples and singles. Decadent desserts from area bakeries will be on hand, as will coffee, tea and other beverages.