[As usual notes to myself to remember shows I've seen but maybe of interest you]
afternoon I saw Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the
Source Theater on 14th Street. I hadn’t read any reviews of the show
and just bought a half priced ticket.
Since it’s not Shakespeare, I expected to be able to understand everything by just hearing it and didn’t bother to re-read it.
While waiting in the lobby I saw a placard with a picture of the
cast of the 1948 movie version saying: if this is what you’re
expecting, you’re not going to get it. This version had an all male
cast, all playing males. Cecily had become CC;
Gwendolyn became Wendell; Mrs. Prism became Mr. Prism.
Generally the production went very well; when you read the play or see that movie version, Algernon, for example, works because the play is played as a period piece and his mannered
and arch and brittle personality and style can be attributed to 19th Century English society; the same is true for Mrs. Prism and Lady Bracknell and to a lesser extent the other characters.
Since I haven’t read the play recently, I may be wrong but I think the dialogue was 90+ percent what Wilde wrote except for boy/girl; man/woman; husband/wife and food and drink
names. Instead of town and country, the opposition was city and beach: Fire Island, Rehoboth.
What they did was make the mannered arch brittle qualities of the dialogue be played by mannered arch brittle gay male characters who had their own little world of exaggerated ins
and outs, the way the Victorian upper class had. In both societies a minor faux pas in dress or manners can have exaggerated social consequences.
The opening scene of the play has Algernon with his butler getting cucumber sandwiches ready for tea with Lady Bracknell; in this version the butler and Algernon were able to use “Sir” and the other master servant relationship words that Wilde wrote for their social position by having the opening scene in bed with each other in an S&M role play; the cucumbers were sexual as well as food objects. To explain Algernon nonstop eating cucumber sandwiches and his constant hunger, he’s shown as a cocaine user.
Lady Bracknell was played by a man as an extravagantly exaggerated southern belle and it worked. In a similar way, Wilde's dialogue was kept basically the same when Jack proposes to Gwendolyn [Wendell] but here they went overboard. Instead of as a proposal the scene was played, gratuitously I think, as a sexual encounter. When Lady Bracknell enters and says to Jack something like: “Rise from that semi-recumbent position”, she’s supposed to be referring to his being on one knee proposing; but here it was to engaging
in sex with Wendell and it didn’t fit well.
The rest of the play was similar. In most scenes the conceit of using men saying Wilde’s words in a different context worked, like the scene between Gwendolyn and Cecilie; both are vapid shallow people and whether they’re male or female doesn’t matter. but in other scenes the conceit was carried too far and seemed strained.
One touch didn’t shock me [I see my genitalia every day] but it seemed extraneous and merely done for ettaper les bourgeoise [or however you spell it] for several of the characters to have their genitalia flopping around.
The actors with one or two exceptions played well; the house was very small.
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