Less than a kilometer from Ireland’s national theater, the Abbey Theater, the landmark Gate Theater building has stood adjacent to Parnell Square for over two decades, and housed a theater company since 1928. In contrast to the Abbey, the Gate Theater traditionally has featured a worldlier repertoire of Irish and non-Irish plays, while the company included at times such iconic actors as Orson Welles, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson.
Currently at the Gate, theatergoers may witness the company’s production of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” featuring renowned Belfast-born actor Marty Rea. Perhaps Wilde’s most well known play, after “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “An Ideal Husband” instills its melodramatic plot, set around political scandal and blackmail, with a sizable dose of Wilde’s characteristic tongue-in-cheek comedy.
The play revolves around the lives of London’s superficial upper crust at the turn of the century- a society that Wilde hyperbolizes as superficially moral. In the play, a Government minister, Robert Chiltern, is blackmailed at a dinner party by a woman who has evidence of an act of political corruption that Chiltern committed early in his career.
Chiltern is adored by his wife who considers him a paragon of honesty and virtue, and her idolatry proves to be psychologically devastating for the couple.
When his wife at last discovers her husband’s imperfection, Chiltern comments:
“It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us- else what else is love at all? All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive.”
It is interesting to note that when writing “An Ideal Husband,” Wilde himself was being blackmailed as a result of his homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas had left a love letter from Wilde in a suit that he loaned to Alfred Wood. Wood in turn attempted, though rather unsuccessfully, to blackmail Wilde. This seemingly melodramatic plot device of found letters and blackmail, moves the plot of “An Ideal Husband,” and most likely echoed back to Wilde’s own brush with extortion.
Though Wilde’s works take place almost entirely in Britain, the Gate plays homage to the Irish-born author in its highly stylized version of one of his most iconic plays- a play that asks audiences to reconsider preconceived notions of morality, humanity and mercy.