Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #6

Best Shows of 2011
#6 The Importance of Being Earnest

Brian Bedford in The Importance of Being Earnest

Sometimes, you just know a show is going to be good.  As soon as you read the press release announcing a show and its cast, you make a mental note to go see it because you just know the production is going to be awesome.

The Importance of Being Earnest was not one of those shows.  While the script certainly has merit, it has been run into the ground by endless college and regional productions of middling quality, not to mention overanalysis in various theatre history and British literature courses.  On top of that you have the Roundabout’s spotty track record with play revivals (particularly that awful production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a play from the same era as Earnest, in Fall 2010) and the complete lack of any name stars.  In all honesty, if I hadn’t been offered the chance to review this show, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it at all.

Thank God I did, because Earnest ended up being a top tier production which almost 12 months later remains one of my most enjoyable nights at the theatre in 2011.  Oscar Wilde’s famous wit has endured the test of time, with his clever quips and wordplay remaining as refreshing now as they must have been during the play’s premiere over a century ago.  Everyone in the cast perfectly suited their roles, and their lively interactions made this well-worn play’s nearly 3 hour runtime fly by.

The crowning jewel of this Earnest was its leading “lady.”  Director Brian Bedford pulled double duty by casting himself as the delightfully acidic Lady Bracknell, and stole the show with his perfectly modulated performance.  Although men in drag have been a source of comedy for ages, Bedford wisely avoided camp and played Bracknell as an actual person, making the performance all the more endearing.  Within a minute of his first entrance, the audience completely forgot they were watching a man in drag and were simply watching an aristocratic matriarch pass blistering judgment on everyone around her.

There are two morals to this story.  One is that the true classics earn their lauded status, due to solid construction and observations about the human condition that remain relevant no matter what century it is.  The other is that sometimes it pays to take a chance and go see a show “just because;” it may end up being one of your favorites.

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