MIDVALE — Walking into the Midvale Performing Arts Center is a welcome surprise to the unassuming exterior. Located in the heart of downtown Midvale, the space provides just the spot for the 4-yr old Pinnacle Acting Company’s latest production of An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde.
The story is simple: fate catches up to Government Minister Sir Robert Chiltern when a mysterious woman produces a letter which reveals a past misdeed and a choice must be made between public scandal and the private shame of his wife. The complication exists in the detailed lives of these incredibly delicious characters that have enthralled theater audiences for decades.
Director Mark Fossen brings an interesting concept to the production setting the play in a movie theatre. Wait, let me restate that. The action of the play, the story, that set of words penned by Wilde exist in their own proper place and time. But the event of the performance, where actors are putting on a show, where the audience exists, is set in a movie theatre.
As the lights dimmed two ushers—in standard black slacks, white shirts and red bow ties—entered on each side of the stage, opened the red velvet curtains and revealed a white movie screen soon hosting the opening credits to the performance. It was a classic throwback to films of the 40s and 50s. I felt a good feeling of post-war flicks showing at the nickel theatre down the street.
Then, in an equally interesting and engaging fashion, our two ushers donned two hand fans and began the play taking on the roles of our first two characters. Actors Aly Dowe and Rhiannon Ross continue these and a few additional roles in the production with charmingly believable and honest performances with only the aid of a simple cane, skirt, or shawl. I found them both extremely talented and strong asset to the production. But what about the leading characters?
Michael Burns provides a strong, determined Sir Robert Chiltern. April Fossen plays his wife, Lady Gertrude Chiltern, and delivers a performance full of deep concern and thought. The romance and deep love between the two characters seems as though it should drive all action of the play, but it doesn’t. I felt the connection between Burns and Fossen much too internal to connect with the audience. It didn’t carry. Despite that, they did stand as pillars of morality for the play.
Finishing out the cast are the most delightfully colorful performances of Jon McBride as Lord Arthur Goring and Melanie Nelson as Mrs. Laura Cheveley. Nelson is a sharp, sexy danger on the stage (in a very good way). She really brought a sense of urgency to the play and I felt she brought that immediacy every time she was on stage. McBride was my favorite of the evening and I believe the entire evening is worth seeing how effortlessly and natural Oscar Wilde’s text can be delivered on the stage. Most of the laughs during the evening were due to the McBride’s honest portrayal of Wilde’s gossip and dedicated bachelor. He makes the play extremely approachable to both novice and student.
But let’s return to Fossen’s concept with the production. While introducing the performance to the audience within the framework of a movie theater is incredibly engaging, and the idea of having two young performers play all minor characters is extremely helpful to focusing the action of the play for the audience (and delightful to watch), the concept did not work for me as a whole. These semi-omniscient ushers…why are they involving themselves in the story? What is this convention trying to say about Wilde’s text or this performance?
It is fully entertaining but it seems the production has forgotten the ushers from the moment they begin Wilde’s text. There were no callbacks to the convention later on in the evening save the “Let’s all go to the lobby” animation during intermission. And that left me hanging.
Still, the evening was enjoyable and Pinnacle Acting Company does present a couple of stand out performances by local Utah actors. I fully recommend an evening with Pinnacle.