'Oh, an ideal husband, that sounds like a rather preposterous kind of a suggestion to me," says Lord Goring. "You know, I would say that husbands in general are flawed creatures. Just as, to some degree or another, wives are also flawed creatures."
I show up for an interview with actor Max Ferguson, but I get his dramatic alter ego: a Victorian nobleman with an upper-crust British accent and a facial expression to match. He quickly puts paid to the notion that the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband contains any ideals at all.
From the first scene of Wilde's comedy of wicked wit and manipulation, the smooth appearances of his sophisticated aristocrats begin to unravel. Husbands, wives, friends and lovers create delicious chaos as they fight to keep their secrets under wraps and their exalted names out of the headlines.
The titular "ideal" husband, Sir Robert Chiltern, is a respected politician with corrupt dealings buried in his past. He must thwart a blackmailer and, even more daunting, keep his wife from finding out. This is standard Wilde-ian comedic fodder, but director Julian Bucknall takes his interpretation of Wilde's script further.
"It's a fun play, but it does have this strong theme to it," he says. "Appearances aren't just appearances, after all, and what goes on under those appearances — it can explode."
The topics of corrupt politicians and insider trading are rendered all the more combustible when set in present-day London. Though Wilde's script remains largely unchanged, Bucknall's modernized treatment throws its ethical questions into sharp relief.
This is driven home by "the conceit of dressing the characters in contemporary clothing and having a more contemporary-looking set," explains Ferguson. And just like Chiltern, "if you look at Tiger Woods or Rod Blagojevich, they're these public figures who want to set themselves up as being upright, moral citizens when really, they've got big-time skeletons in their closet."
In addition to skeletons and scandal, the play has a decidedly un-Victorian seduction scene and several oblique references to "breezes" in unexpected places.
"That's right, it's a Victorian fart joke," Ferguson says. "I hope that people tune into those subtle, underlying meanings."