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.
Labels: Out of Town Theater Reviews