For most of the time I was growing up, we spent our summers in Creede. An old mining town in southwestern Colorado, it is now days noted for its fly fishing, and somewhat surprisingly for its repertory theatre company. And since I have loved the theatre from the time I could first recite a line, I was delighted whenever my parents took us to see a play there.
And of all the plays I saw over the years, by far my most favorite was a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. As the years have passed, my passion for the play has not diminished. I have seen several other versions and always laughed just as loudly at the antics of Algernon, Jack, Cecily, Gwendolen and the inestimable, Lady Bracknell.
I even suffered through the movie (okay, Rupert Everett is in it, so there really wasn’t much suffering). So you can imagine my joy when the Roundabout Theatre announced a new production of Earnest. And to make it even juicer, internationally acclaimed actor Brian Bedford was slated to both direct and act—playing the part of Lady Bracknell.
Needless to say I was among the first in line to purchase tickets. And when the reviews arrived—most of them stellar—I was even more excited. There’s something wonderful about a favorite play. Seeing it again is like visiting old friends. Sometimes with new faces, but nevertheless people you already know and love. That said, there is also the anticipation that maybe this time somehow the magic will be lost.
Fortunately for me, the production at the American Airlines Theatre was superb. And I fell in love with Wilde’s comedy of errors all over again. Every word is brilliantly written (Wilde is one of my absolute favorite writers), and in the hands of this cast, they literally sing out across the stage.
Santino Fontana (most recently at the Roundabout in Sunday at the Park with George) played Algernon with just the right glint in his eye. Although he lacked the suave sophistication that Everett brings to Wilde’s characters (he was also in a wonderful movie adaptation of the Ideal Husband) he still captures the essence of the character with a wry playfulness that endears him the audience.
David Furr playing the role of John/Earnest Worthington was spot on as the stick-in-the-mud dying to break out and totally infatuated with Gwendolen. Both Jessie Austrian and Charlotte Parry playing the women with whom John and Algernon besotted were well-cast. The scene with the tea and sugar cubes was excellently choreographed and wonderfully played. Especially when it finally culminates with the two women on the steps, arms linked, casting “the look” over their shoulders at their befuddled gentlemen friends.
And of course there’s Lady Bracknell. I was honestly afraid that Mr. Bedford would overshadow the rest of the cast. The character has that potential all by herself. Add to that an actor of such superior caliber and the potential is there. But instead, Bedford simply inhabits Bracknell, breathing life into her effortlessly. Although each and every word and gesture was letter perfect and there were definite moments when he stole the show, he was still very much part of the ensemble, which made for a wonderful performance overall.
The scenery was whimsical and yet accurate to period. The costumes were fabulous. Especially Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell’s. And yet, it must be said that in the end—it was all about the writing. And of course—The Importance of Being Earnest.