Today, literature lovers, we’re going Bunburying . But first, we have to talk about who Bunbury is… or isn’t.
He’s a fictitious character in a work of fiction — “ The Importance of Being Earnest,” beloved masterwork of the brilliant Victorian Oscar Wilde. In the play, Algernon, a wealthy London city-dweller, pretends to have an ailing friend named Bunbury , who lives in the country. Whenever Algy wants to avoid responsibility or social obligation, or just get out of town, he claims that he simply must visit his “sick friend” — who simply doesn’t exist.
Given Wilde’s own wildness, as a closeted, flamboyant and ultimately imprisoned homosexual, some say ‘ Bunburying ’ is code for the double life of gay men. So, a play called “ Bunbury ” fits right into Diversionary Theatre, San Diego ’s only GLBT company (Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender). The play was well received in its L.A. premiere in 2005, and it makes an apt and upbeat ending to Diversionary’s 21st season.
As one of many smart, literary in-jokes, the new work is subtitled “a serious play for trivial people,” which also ‘takes a walk on the Wilde side’; “The Importance of Being Earnest” is subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.” The two plays share some characters, but there is a dramatic difference of focus. Wilde’s piece is a comedy of manners and a clever skewering of his society. “ Bunbury ” is more like a mannered comedy. Los Angeles playwright Tom Jacobson has a very different message in mind: No one is irrelevant, the people we overlook might be the really important ones… and maybe, if there weren’t so much tragedy in literature, there’d be less of it in life.
The play’s means don’t quite justify its far-fetched end, but the journey is a trip. At the outset, we meet the prissy, fluttery Bunbury , at home with his butler. A mysterious Renaissance visitor pushes her way in, and she turns out to be another plot device — Rosaline, the first love of Romeo who, like Bunbury (and many other characters we encounter), never appears in the play that spawned her. Still, Rosaline pines for Romeo, Bunbury pines for Algernon, and pretty soon, they’re busting into other pieces of literature, creating happy endings willy-nilly, and maybe even changing the world.
So Romeo and Juliet live to tell their tale, trapped in a humdrum, kid-strapped marriage., while in other witty/crazy scenes, we witness the long-awaited arrival of Godot ; Blanche DuBois ’ asthenic young husband has a fling with Bunbury ; and the “little bugger” of a son, imagined by George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ,” shows up, too. The more you know of literature, the funnier the riffs are. There are a few too many of them, though; one 90-minute act could certainly convey the playwright’s intent, more swiftly and skillfully. But the literary references and the self-referential language fly by fast and furious, and some of it is truly inspired.
The cast is funny and multi-talented, with David McBean pitch-perfect as the snooty but lovelorn Bunbury ; and Melissa Fernandes a hoot as Rosaline, and several other characters. The ever-adaptable ensemble of eight takes on some 23 eclectic and eccentric personas, with lightning-fast costume changes that are amazing and amusing. As directed by Esther Emery, the play is a comical, sometimes campy, often intellectual romp. Not much deep or lasting significance. It’s strictly for quick-witted fun, not for trivial people.
©2007 Patté Productions, Inc.
“ Bunbury ,“ continues at Diversionary Theatre through June 17