Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Utmost Importance

January 04, 2011

Brian Bedford and Charlotte Parry Photo: Joan Marcus 2010

In a last minute substitution, I ended up at a preview performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which is scheduled to open on Broadway later this month in a production from the Roundabout Theater Company. And while it is still a work in progress, it’s worth mentioning some of the production's strengths that may foretell its success later this season. The name this show has been built around is a well-respected one—Brian Bedford. Lauded for his work in Molière and Shakespeare, Bedford is directing this revival and also starring in it. The twist is that he's in drag as Wilde’s perhaps most notorious character, Lady Bracknell. The show is actually an import from the Stratford Shakeseare Festival in Ontario where Bedford received glowing notices for his work. You may think Earnest and Lady Bracknell have been done to death. And they have. Any new revival has a lot to overcome in terms of arguing for its relevance and necessity.

But fortunately, this revival seems off to a good start at least with Bedford at its core. His performance was surprisingly earthy. It’s easy for Bracknell to become a caricature, harboring all of Wilde’s criticism of the Victorian age. And while Bedford never misses with any of her zingers, he gives her a much more earth-bound feel, as if she were an actual person whose concerns, while comical, are not at all outside of the reality of the world she inhabits. Bedford never plays the drag angle for cynical laughs, and avoids campiness. He plays Bracknell as straight as can be and it was lovely to watch.

Many of the women in the cast including Sara Topham as Gwendolen Fairfax and Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew, John Worthing’s ward, had high energy and were eminently watchable. Dana Ivey and Paxton Whitehead make wonderful appearances as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble respectively. Of course, this is still a preview and there is work to be done as well. The pacing, especially of the first act had yet to gel and seemed unusually slow. This quickly righted itself by the second act, but the show still hadn’t mustered the snap to grab one's attention from the opening curtain. But soon it may and the amount of clarity already on display is heartening. Mounting Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest runs the risk of seeming unnecessary given how familiar it is to many an audience. But based on what Brian Bedford has put together thus far, this appears to be one of those worthwhile ventures.



Upmost? As in "uppermost"? Doesn't sound right. You probably mean UTMOST, as in "most extreme".
And in the second sentence, there should not be any apostrophe in "strengths that may foretell its success later this season".
The only reason these kinds of popular mistakes are jarring is that your writing is usually very fine otherwise. Thanks!
A point well taken. Thanks for the note.
And since we're being grammatical pedants around here, the following sentence is a perfect example of the universal, internet-wide it's/its problem. "And while it is still a work in progress, it’s worth mentioning some of the production's strengths that may foretell it’s success later this season." The first "it's" is correct since you're writing a contraction of "it is" while "it's success" is all wrong because the "its" should be a possessive sans apostrophe. I know, your proofreader/editor just quit because you weren't paying them enough.

Also, "The Importance of Being Earnest" can never be overperformed enough in this world. It's probably the closest thing to a Mozart opera as exists in the spoken theatre.
Never praise a writer for his excellent style without re-reading for awkward slips. In this case, we might point out an extraneous "in" in the phrase "the world in which she inhabits" and note the use of "imminently" instead of "eminently". Then, in the final sentence, we see that Brian types too quickly and has transformed his subject's first name from "Brian" to "Brain".
Thanks again for the corrections. Ah, the beauty of the internet. You see, there's little need for me to hire anyone to do proofreading when there are so many others out there willing to do it for free!

I couldn't do this at such low cost without this kind of help. Thanks again.
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