The Pear goes Wilde with 'An Ideal Husband'

Comedy about Victorian hypocrisy still resonates, director says

A good plan for staging an Oscar Wilde play in which everyone is expected to speak with proper British accents: Hire an experienced director who is actually from Great Britain.

Enter Jenny Hollingworth, director of the Pear Theatre's "An Ideal Husband," who studied English literature -- and English and American playwrights -- at university and who speaks the language quite nicely, thank you. She's guiding her actors through some tricky phrasings.

For instance, there is a line that includes this phrase: "I can’t stand drafts," in which the "a" sounds differ significantly.

That little bit, done properly, bounces between elongated "ahhh" sounds and a shorter, flatter "a" sound. "I cahhhn't stand drahhhfts."

"Even my husband (Paul Hollingworth, also British) says it's all over the place," said Hollingworth, who noted that there is a conflict between concentrating on accent, and just acting. "As director, you want them to be good enough, but not so tied up that they can’t act."

"An Ideal Husband" centers around the potential blackmail of a politician, who years ago sold cabinet secrets to increase his own fortune. Not only is his career on the line but his marriage, too, as his "morally inflexible" wife is not likely to accept the shame of her husband being revealed to have acted less than virtuously in the past. Oh, and the blackmailer is her longtime "frenemy."

A Pear press release states, "Rife with Wilde's skewering observations of high society, 'An Ideal Husband' explores political corruption, public persona versus private virtue, and the inevitable disappointments that come with holding others to one's own rigid ideals."

"On one level, I feel some affinity with Wilde," Hollingworth told the Weekly. "That period in history, his characters were in London and how they speak. I studied the Victorian novelists, and I directed a staged reading of the play, some years ago. Wilde is Irish, but he was in London for some time.

"Then Betsy (Kruse Craig, the Pear’s outgoing artistic director) suggested I read it again. I was thinking it was about a corrupt politician, but it's not really about a politician -- he could be anybody -- an industrialist, high-up clergy. Is it possible to get high up without some skeletons in the closet?"

The play, Hollingworth said, "is essentially about forgiveness."

And therefore very much for this time, when, especially through social media, there can be such a rush to judgment.

"People can throw stones at anybody who has something in their past. I am thinking about Joe Biden, when he was being torn to pieces, about something he did 30 years ago.

"My sense is we’ve gone too far in that direction, where people have to answer for everything they've ever done. It is an excessively hypocritical environment we're in. It's like Victorian society, with a lot of hypocrisy. It’s not just people in high places, it’s everybody. On Twitter, everybody has a voice. Also, I think there are too many people who want to idolize other people. This has happened for centuries. Shakespeare’s Roman plays were about putting someone on top, then whipping the rug out from under them."

Hollingworth has had a winding career through theater.

After university, she developed a career in marketing, then gave that up when she became a mother. Living in "a remote part of the country," she started with a group that did theatrical readings.

When her family came to America, someone at her husband’s office knew of a theater company that needed some help. Soon, she was busy at the Tabard Theatre, in San Jose.

"I learned to do a lot of things at Tabard, did whatever was required. Marketing, assistant directing. Wrote part of one play. It was a busy time, a bit of a blur."

Her day job is at a global consulting firm in San Jose, writing press releases. Her husband is in marketing for a microchip company. She pointed out that she used to be in marketing for potato chips. Surely there is a connection.

Now that her children are 17 and 20, she has more free time, which she uses in theater. The Dragon in Redwood City is her main theatrical home, she said, where she will direct the opening play of its 2020 season. Then she is to direct "Steel Magnolias" at Los Altos Stage Company. But for now, it's full steam ahead on "An Ideal Husband" -- British vowels and all.

Freelance writer John Orr can be emailed at johnorr@regardingarts.com.

What: "An Ideal Husband."

Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View.

When: Aug. 23 through Sept. 15.

Cost: $35; savings available for seniors and students.

Info: The Pear.

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