The audience and I went ‘wilde’ watching Cameron Folmar’s performance of Lord Goring in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Ideal Husband. It wasn’t just the playwright’s clever words, it was Cameron’s wry delivery, charm, smile and style that may us laugh so loud and often. Cameron Folmar was born to play this role!
Joel: Who is Lord Goring?
Cameron: Without giving too much away, Lord Goring has two distinct arcs in this play. In the larger scope he is a doctor, of sorts. He “fixes” some rather complicated problems that his best friends – the Chilterns – have become entangled in – problems that have universal, as well as, domestic consequences. On a more personal level, Goring’s trajectory has to do with his life as a bon vivant vs. his responsibility as a titled man in Victorian England, and his growing relationship with his best friend’s sister. Forgive me for being vague. Personally, I can’t stand to be told the plot of a story before I’ve seen it. I relish the surprise of discovering something for the first time.
Why did you want to play this role?
Lord Goring gives life a full-on embrace. He has courage, wit, charm and style. He is loyal to his friends to the point of getting himself in considerable danger. No matter how I measure up to the challenges of my life, whatever knots I get into, wherever I may stumble; when the curtain goes up each night, I get to do the things Goring does with his grace and his empathy. I can’t imagine not wanting to play this role.
Is Lord Goring like yourself?
Goring is so far beyond me. I suppose I can say that I have not collapsed into what other people might define as “ideal”. Those definitions are so disparate; and, therefore, so confusing. How can you please everybody? Goring is an artist – a life artist. He is, himself, a work of art. He does not measure himself by what society understands or accepts. He is self-realized.
What advice in rehearsals did director Keith Baxter give you that helped you shape your performance?
Keith has a venerable lifetime experience as an actor, and, therefore, an eagle-eye as a director. As much as I hate to admit it, he was dead-on when he said that my “default-mode” as an actor is to throw lines away. By that I mean, that in an attempt to be “natural”, I have a tendency to be glib. It is an old habit of mine – and not one that I like to be reminded of, so my feathers were ruffled when he brought it up, but he was absolutely right. Glib has no place in an Oscar Wilde play. If you just spout off epigrams and witticisms, no one cares. You must connect everything that you say, no matter how witty, to what is happening in the moment – and each moment must be treated as the most important.
Would you consider him an ‘actor’s director’, and if so, how did his background help contribute to the talented cast’s performances?
Keith is an actor, so, of course, he directs from an actor’s point of view. By that I mean – that without sets, without lights, without costumes – the only thing an audience truly needs is actors to give voice and action to the playwright’s script. There should (and hopefully will be) more like him. Of course the sets, lights, sound, and costumes are not to be underestimated. The Shakespeare Theatre has surrounded us with the appropriate riches to complete this world – the height of the British Empire.
Have you worked with Keith before?
This is my first time working with Keith. But I hope not the last.
Have you worked with the other cast members before?
Yes. Most recently Claire Brownell and I were in the Company of The 39 Steps on Broadway. I was at Juilliard with Greg Wooddell, and we were in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Shakespeare Theatre Company 10 years ago. I have also worked with David Sabin and Floyd King in several plays here in Washington.
Have you appeared in any other works by Oscar Wilde?
This is my first Wilde play. I’ve been anxious to do Wilde for years and I couldn’t hope for a better role to start with.
Why is this play so timely and why will today’s audiences relate so well to An Ideal Husband?
Whether it’s the year 1895 or 2895, some things stay the same. As funny as the play is, it is also a political thriller, and a domestic drama. This is a great play to put on today, particularly in Washington, D.C.. Our audiences here are so tuned-in to the problems that arise when a seasoned politician, with the best intentions, gets embroiled in a blackmail plot that could cause the Empire to crumble because of an insider trading deal he struck when he was just starting out. A deal that gave him enough money to be taken seriously in society.
Floyd King, who plays Phipps, has the audience roaring when he ‘steals’ several scenes in Lord Goring’s residence in the second act. How does he do it? How do you keep a straight face and prevent yourself from bursting out in laughter when Floyd is in these scenes?
I first met Floyd at Juilliard where he taught a class in Shakespearean Comedy. I distinctly remember sitting out a class with stomach problems because I was so nervous. Since then, I have been in four plays with Mr. King – including my professional debut at the Shakespeare Theatre in ’99. It was King Lear – he was Fool, I was Edgar.
Now – a decade or more later, I am proud to say that I feel completely at home with him onstage. Floyd “steals” nothing – he earns his laughs, and I revel in them. By the way, as funny as he is onstage – I wish you knew him off-stage – he is even more hilarious in person.
Why do you think Lord Goring’s friendship with Sir Robert Chiltern is so strong? Are they in any way alike?
I can tell you that the scenes I play with Robert Chiltern are some of the best written scenes in the play. Their conversations are fascinating and athletic in their wit and depth. Although they have fundamental differences and move in different spheres, the debates between them are stimulating. I think they are two hyper-intelligent men who respect one another and enjoy the debate. As for why Goring continues to support Chiltern, my impression is that Chiltern is at heart a very good man and an excellent person to have in a position of power. Although he may have started less than honestly, the progress that he is affecting now is far more important than punishing him further than he has already punished himself. There’s a knowledge and acceptance of the hypocrisy that politics breeds in a society that demands their leaders to be perfect or “ideal”.
As for similarities between Goring and Chiltern, they both have titles. But Goring was born into wealth whereas Chiltern was not. That is where their paths diverge. Because Goring is not in need, he has a position of objectivity and he can see clearly into the hearts of his friends. Chiltern, on the other hand, has had to scramble for his existence. He’s had to fight for his success. So of course, along the way, compromises and back door deals have taken place.
When is the first time Lord Goring hints that he has a ‘crush’ on Chiltern’s sister Mabel, played by the very funny Claire Brownell?
I think that the attraction between Goring and Mabel is in full swing before the play begins. In a world of serious people, or people who are striving to be thought of as serious or important, they stand out as two people who are quite content to be themselves, regardless of what anyone else thinks about them. There is no pretense. And when two people like that find each other, that’s it.
Their very first exchange together is basically: You’re late – Did you miss me? – Terribly. – I’m so glad. You know right then that there is something special between them.
Describe to our readers who haven’t yet seen them, Simon Higlett’s sets.
The sets are incredible. The Chiltern’s set is an enormous reception room – all dark marble. Formal. Auspicious, glamorous. It is based on the first floor of The National Gallery Of Art here in D.C.
My house (Goring’s Room) is based on the Whistler Room at the Freer Gallery in D.C., otherwise known as The Peacock Room – the big difference is the color. Goring’s room is pale – cream colored – compared to the Whistler Room, which is Peacock blue-green.
What are some of the challenges you and the cast faces every performance maneuvering around this huge Chiltern set?
I’ve never had a problem with movement on the set. I would say that the biggest obstacle any of us faces on a daily basis is getting our mouths around all of those beautiful words. When the dialogue is perfect, it’s like spewing diamonds.
What did you learn about Oscar Wilde and this play that you didn’t know about him before you took this role?
When Keith Baxter offered me this role, he mentioned the biography, “Wilde” by Richard Ellmann, which I read and dog-eared and underlined. My copy is curled and frayed at the edges.
Oscar Wilde was the first gay martyr of modern times. He is in a certain sense the father of the gay movement. He stood firm when he could easily have run. He fought the charge of Gross Indecency – he defined “the love that dare not speak its name”, and he was condemned for it – as he probably knew he would be. He was condemned by the society which, moments before, had catapulted him to his greatest height as a playwright and world-famous persona. An Ideal Husband was a great hit on the West End, playing alongside his most famous work, The Importance Of Being Earnest. When he was arrested and taken to jail his name was stricken from the Billboards of both plays while they were still in performance. The society that he so aptly observed (criticized and loved), punished him to his death.
With that in mind, reading An Ideal Husband (which he wrote in the turmoil of his affair with Bosie, and with Bosie’s father stalking Oscar) there are numerous moments in the play when you get a sense that he is writing his own life story. Of course, that is not the play as we present it. Wilde’s biography is not required reading before one sees the play, in fact it has nothing to do with the play as it stands. But, that’s a little of what I learned about the man before we started this project.
There are so many wonderful lines that Wilde wrote for Lord Goring. Which are your three favorites?
1. “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it, it is never of any use to oneself”.
2. “You know you are lying, why thief is written across your face at this moment”.
3. “Youth isn’t an affectation. Youth is an art”.
How would you describe Lord Goring’s relationship with his father The Earl of Caversham, played by David Sabin? I could certainly relate when The Earl asked Lord Goring, “Do you always really understand what you say?” he responds, “Yes, father, if I listen attentively.” And it gets a big laugh.
Lord Caversham represents the Old Guard or what we would describe today as the ‘old school’. And Goring today would be like a super rapper dancing circles around his father. I think that Goring is so at home with himself, that his father’s constant criticisms are gnat-like, but a gnat that you have affection for.
What’s it like working with David?
David and I played Father and Son in my debut as a professional actor. It was King Lear here at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in 1999. He was Gloucester to my Edgar. It is a great joy to resume our father/son relationship in this much happier play. David and I play together with the greatest of ease. This is my 5th show with David. You couldn’t ask for a better dad.
Was your relationship with your own father similar to theirs?
Yes. In a way. My sense of humor, growing up, was always ironic and very dry. My father mistook that for ‘smart-assedness’. He didn’t understand a thing I said. In fact, I still have to be careful. But he’s a sweet man and I love him.
Are you a good listener?
That’s the kind of thing that you hope other people say about you.
Robert Perdziola has designed some colorfully gorgeous costumes. Which ones are your favorites? If you could wear one of them – that you don’t wear in the show – which one would it be and why?
As far as the men’s costumes go, mine are the best, please! If I could wear anything else, I think it would be Lady Chiltern’s ice-blue gown with the diamond choker and I want that wig too. I would float down that staircase like a goddess.
You have performed in many productions here at STC. Which roles are your favorites, and is there a role or two that you haven’t performed yet that you really want to play?
My two favorite roles at Shakespeare Theatre Company have been Candy Delaney in Tennessee Williams’ And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens, and Lord Goring. Believe it or not, I did both roles back to back just last Saturday. I played Candy at the Williams Centenary Festival at 11 AM, then cabbed it over to the Harman to play Lord Goring at 2 PM.
As for roles I want to play – they are too many to list – I am happy to see Pinter on next season’s bill. I’m dying to do Beckett’s Endgame. I would love to do Macbeth – but only if it’s Really Scary. I love Molière – I would love to see Garland Wright’s production of Tartuffe reproduced.
Foremost, with actors like Ted, Floyd, David, and Nancy – I want Chekov – please give us Chekov – these actors are born for him. I don’t care whether I’m in the play or not, I want to see these actors in Chekov plays.
Let’s return to The 39 Steps, in which you performed the role of ‘Man #2’ on and Off-Broadway.
In The 39 Steps I changed clothes and characters a hundred times – sometimes just with a switch of a hat on stage in a split second. That’s why I loved it. The 39 Steps is an athletic play. Doing it 8 times a week is all the workout one needs to maintain a perfect physique – and you can eat whatever the hell you want.
What do you want audiences to take with them after leaving Harman Hall after seeing An Ideal Husband?
I hope that our audience will go out asking questions about the play they just saw, rather than inquiring what to eat or where to go next. I hope the play and its characters will remain with them.
Watch Cameron backstage at the Off-Broadway production of The 39 Steps here.