Is there such a thing as "An Ideal Husband"? Cal Shakes knows!

“An Ideal Husband”, written in 1893 and first performed in 1895, by the controversial playwright, Oscar Wilde, has just opened to a flurry of praise from theatre attendees and critics alike. Under the guiding hand of Jonathan Moscone, the California Shakespeare Theatre’s brilliant production is now playing in the Brun’s Amphitheatre in Orinda.

Writer and Cal Shakes resident dramaturg, Laura Hope, comments that “one of the great ironies of Oscar Wilde’s legacy is his reputation as one of the greatest satirists of English High Society. He writes with an intimate knowledge of English Culture and a facility for wordplay and the mechanics of the English language arguably unparalleled by any other “English” writer, except perhaps Shakespeare. Oscar Wilde, however, was not English, He was an Irishman – hence the irony.”

Oscar Wilde was known as the ultimate outsider in English society, yet his writings capture with incredible accuracy the intimate character of the British upper class. “An Ideal Husband” is a remarkable portrait of the true character of people who espouse high ideals, promote daily the full reform and resurrection of good government, while proving that even those with the best intentions and external appearances, may very well have their own dark secrets.

What makes an “ideal husband”? Gertrude Chiltern (played by Julie Eccles) has married a man, Robert Chiltern, she believes to be an exception to almost all men, certainly of most husbands. Robert is a loving devoted husband, wealthy, well bred, well educated, and a politician of exceptionally honorable standing, a man highly regarded in all circles. She is so proud of Robert (played by Michael Butler) that she has placed him on a marble pedestal that cries out to the world, this man can do no wrong.

How wrong we are to put any of us upon a pedestal, because without exception, every great man most of us have ever known, is still, first and foremost, a man, subject to human frailties. How few of us can negotiate our world without erasers on our pencils! We all make mistakes, regardless of purpose or intent. Mrs. Chiltern is about to discover that the great man she loves and worships, made a certain choice at one time in his youth, that is about to come back to haunt them both.

In what can only be described as a stellar cast, Director Moscone, has populated this play with the very best to enable the delightful characters, good and bad, to come to full fruition upon California Shakespeare Theater’s unique amphitheatre in the Orinda woods. Stacy Ross plays Mrs. Chively, a remarkable woman for her time, astute, literate, politically well positioned and as cutthroat as any modern day CEO, epitomizing the philosophy, “I win, you lose!” It is Mrs. Chively who returns as a nemesis from Gertrude’s past with the information capable of destroying the Chiltern legacy, that is, unless she obtains a political favor that will benefit her personal and financial agendas.

Other actors in this company include, Elijah Alexander (as the Chiltern’s stalwart friend, Lord Goring), L. Peter Callender (as Lord Caversham, Goring’s father), Nancy Carlin , Joan Mankin, Delia MacDougall, Danny Scheie, Ted Barker, and Sarah Nealis complete the circle of principal actors in this production.

This story of intrigue, love, deception and wonderfully interwoven comedy is a truly superb production in every respect. Costumes by Meg Neville, Lighting designed by Scott Zielinski, sound by Jeff Mockus, set design by Annie Smart, all fulfill their respective contributing parts.

This remarkable production plays Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances a 4 p.m., and one afternoon matinee at 2 p.m., on July 26th, closing on July 27th. The Cal Shakes Theater is located in the Brun’s Amphitheater at 100 Gateway Blvd. in Orinda, located by exiting the freeway westbound at the last exit on the east side of the Caldecott Tunnel. Tickets start at $35 and generally range between $35 and $62 each (except for previews). Call (510) 548-9666 or visit their website at for more information. Be sure and dress in layers as it can get downright cold when the fog comes over the Oakland hills and drop down into the amphitheatre area. Last Saturday evening it turned out to be cool and comfortable in a light jacket. You may want to come early and enjoy a picnic in the wonderful park setting that surrounds the theatre. There is a food booth adjacent to the theatre seating area where you can purchase food and drinks prior to the show as well.