note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Beverly Creasey
“Life is too important,” Oscar Wilde famously said, “to be taken seriously”---and this month the Lyric Stage is reminding us of Wilde’s dazzling, and devilishly funny wordplay with THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (playing through June 7th).
Almost every line is a treasure in Wilde’s cheeky comedy of manners, mistaken identities and hilarious romantic shenanigans. The role “to die for” in EARNEST is Lady Bracknell, the “gorgon” at the gate of matrimonial bliss. If she doesn’t approve a match, it doesn’t happen and Bobbie Steinbach gives a ferociously delicious performance as the formidable Lady B.
Director Spiro Veloudos and costumer Gail Astrid Buckley have a bit of fun dressing Lady B’s daughter exactly like her mother in Act I, making Gwendolen a little Bracknell in-the-making, confirming Wilde’s naughty assertion that women always become their mothers. Hannah Barth is wonderfully seductive as Gwendolen, pronouncing “Ernest” as if it were an aphrodisiac—and marvelously controlling, keeping her proposing beau forcibly on his knees.
Ed Hoopman is the consummate Wilde suitor: dashing, daring and headstrong---and perfectly “styled,” with his chin held high, in accordance with Lady B’s pronouncement. Curiously, Lewis Wheeler, as the other eligible man about town, seems to adopt a naturalistic acting style, out of step with the stylized tone of the play (and, alas, sacrificing many a funny line).
It’s a pleasure to see Bob Jolly back in top form, giddily punctuating Dr. Chasuble’s embarrassed chatter or slyly tolerating the upper classes as a proper English servant. Dafydd Rees, as his country equivalent, fairly oozes disdain for the gentry.
Jessica Grant is a splendid Cecily, all sweetness and petulance, and Beth Gotha makes Miss Prism adorably, unsuitably flirtatious. Adding to the layers of comedic “vibration,” scenic designer Brynna Bloomfield hangs historic “Wilde” Beardsley prints in Algernon’s parlor and even Gilbert & Sullivan make an appearance, in a whistled aria from PINAFORE about love leveling rank. What fun Wilde must have had skewering not-so polite society…and what genius, to have created a play which still resonates in this day and age.