Must perfection always be so temporary? More than we realize, replies Oscar Wilde in his play An Ideal Husband, if only because it never really exists.
The road to such a conclusion is a nasty tale of ruthless blackmail unfolding in upper-class Victorian England that proceeds so confidently, you may leave the Walnut Street Theatre's handsome new production wondering why the play isn't done as often as The Importance of Being Earnest. The cast was uneven in significant places at Wednesday's opening. But, as the play so pointedly points out, nothing is ideal.
The plot strains at the seams of its comic framework as its characters, with trademark Wilde witticisms, face the biggest checkmate of their lives. The rich, beautiful widow Mrs. Cheveley has invested her fortune in a canal project that's doomed to failure without governmental support in the form of Sir Robert Chiltern, who is dead set against it until Mrs. Cheveley theatens to expose an act of insider trading from his past: What initially built his career may now ruin it - as well as his seemingly perfect marriage.