KPBS AIRDATE: MAY 12, 1999
When my husband got his MBA, he was inducted into the Business Honor Society, for which he was required to take an oath, among other things, to be “earnest in all endeavors.” I was appalled, frantically mouthing from across the room, “Don’t say it!” After all, what could be worse than eternal earnestness?
But if he had been there, Oscar Wilde, who has, in fact, given us all eternal earnestness, would’ve eaten that oath right up (along with the rubber chicken). Who knows better ‘The importance of being earnest?’ In that 1895 classic, Wilde introduced us to two flighty ingénues who wouldn’t dream of marrying anyone who wasn’t Ernest. And two foppish dilettantes who were more than willing to become Ernest just to wed and bed those cute young things.
With its caricatures, catfights and catting around, its closeted sexuality and punishing parents, the comedy lends itself deliciously to high camp. New York playwright/director Hugh Hysell adapted the play with gay abandon, and last year, presented to Off Broadway and the New York International Fringe Theatre Festival, “The All-Male Importance of Being Earnest.” And what more appropriate company to bring us the West coast premiere than Misfit Productions, the spunky little peripatetic group that specializes in quirky comedies and Dysfunctional Family Theatre?
Founding producer/director Fred Tracey has obviously had a romp with this romp, which is housed in the funky Sweetooth Theatre, in the basement of the Maryland Hotel. The fey-play is set in Manhattan and the Hamptons. In this bare-bones production, Algernon’s city digs include a chair and small table, and a lovely baby grand, upon which sits, along with the requisite cucumber sandwiches, a jaunty, bemused portrait of ole Oscar himself, who would undoubtedly be having a Wilde time if he could see what’s been done to his work. Wilde’s own homosexuality got him in a heap of trouble in hypocritical, homophobic England; his high-profile trial resulted in two years of hard labor, which undoubtedly led to his early death, at 46, in bitterness, exile and despair. But his legacy is full of life and wit, satire and sarcasm, and indelible, epigrammatic wisdom.
This new version is rife with flaming jocularity; its flamboyance puts the accent on the ‘boy.’ Algy and his finicky friend Jack are desperately enamored of the beautiful young things, or Miss Things, Gerald and Kurt (stand-ins for the original Cecily and Gwendolyn). One of Gerald’s two disapproving fathers is Mr. Bracknell, impeccably dressed and impossibly affected. Then there are the two maids-with-attitude, who take every opportunity to duck behind a breakfront for a bit of frottage. And let’s not forget the prissy Mr. Prism, tutor to young Kurt… and his clandestine affinity for Chasuble, the somewhat irreverent reverend. All this lusting and coupling make for a pretty hilarious 90 minutes — Wilde’s chatty comedy of manners distilled down to a mannered comedy, and a quickie, at that.
Tracey has cast well, and all the boys seem to be having a ball. Or two. Best of all are David Hough as a cynical, self-absorbed Algernon, Darren Phillips as his surly houseboy Lane, and Thomas McRae as his beautiful beloved, Kurt. All these esthetes could far better attired –- more elegance is definitely in order. But there’s nothing bad in this badinage, and it works wonderfully well as gay repartee.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.