PROVO — It is an understatement to say that An Ideal Husband, produced by BYU, was technologically impaired. Though I appreciate the effort of the actors and technicians to put together a live streaming show, I wish they had created a perfect recording and put that on instead. The amount of issues that happened in this performance couldn’t have been a surprise to them, and I hope in future they will leave live theater to in-person performances.
The director, Andrea Gunoe, had some interesting choices which intrigued me until they seemed cause technical slowdowns, such as screens freezing or muting at the wrong time. I liked how the play was set up like a zoom call for the party, with people being added in and their videos enlarged to focus in on the people having conversation. I also appreciated the texts being readable, because the performance felt like a mashup of Oscar Wilde‘s writing and a teenage drama. There were some choices that I appreciated, like how the actors who weren’t speaking but had their faces shown were in character, either in silent conversation with others or drinking, taking selfies, and adjusting clothing. However, I wish they had been uniform on where to focus their eyes, as some actors would look directly at the zoom window of another while speaking to them, and others would look directly into the camera instead.
The play was adapted by Charisse Baxter, under the direction of Gunoe, and the combination of modern and 19th century failed to gel. The mostly painful English accents, combined with the texting, liking, and hash-tagging, was ill conceived and resulted in an unenjoyable show. The only advantage was that the modernization helped make the story more understandable, resulting in a show that could be more inclusive. But Wilde’s writing is carefully crafted and at times can still be irritating; altering the text and conveying the same ideas sloppily meant that there really was no hope for this rendition.
Justin Hemsley was the digital designer for this production, and I enjoyed the digital backgrounds to show the type of space the characters were meeting in. The living rooms were modern, but with expensive and luxurious décor, helping the play to fit with the actors’ accents and characterizations. However, the rules of the digital theatre space were not clear. For example, it was confusing sometimes when characters in different video windows would have different backgrounds but speak like they were together in-person and not just video-chatting. Also, characters joined video chats spontaneously, and I was not sure why they were allowed to jump in on a call without ringing first, or if they just showed up at each other’s houses without knocking. Finally, I did not appreciate the cheesy likes, emojis, and hearts bursting out whenever something happened, making the show look similar to an obnoxious YouTube video.
One bright spot was Alison Taylor’s performance (in the role of Mabel Chiltern), and was able to execute the overdone monologue “Tommy proposing” with true-to-character feeling and unexaggerated emotion. Alyssa Aramaki did well as Gertrude, keeping the pace with the show despite the technical issues and bringing life to her character so I could relate to her experiences. She acted dynamically, producing a clear change in her character by the end, which was satisfying and at least gave the show some essence. Apart from these performances, though, the acting in An Ideal Husband was unimpressive, feeling more like an acting class final project than a production that people had auditioned for.
Still, the actors adjusted to the odd format and the technical glitches well. Sophie Lewis as Lady Markby had a lovely moment where she said “Pardon?” in her sophisticated voice when a character entered muted, and Isaac Maltby as Lord Goring had an entire dialogue that seemed part of the script when the same thing happened to his ancient father, Lord Chaversham (played by Daniel Summerstay), in which he bemoaned the elderly attempting to use technology. But these issues only accentuated the poorly conceived attempt to merge modern and late Victorian English culture.
I estimated that by the end, the technical difficulties had added an extra 45 minutes to this 2 hour show. While An Ideal Husband was not a successful production, I appreciate the attempt, and the modernization did make the script more understandable and accessible. I hope the cast and crew can iron out the technical problems before their run concludes, though I am ready for this pandemic to end and for everyone to get back to real live theatre. Let me see the performance in person, and leave the video editing to YouTubers.