Purists beware: NativeAliens Theatre Collective got their hands on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and by the time they were through with it, it was anything but Earnest, and far more enjoyable than it had any right to be. The wildly uneven production had moments of true hilarity but was ultimately damaged by a misguided concept and weak performances in several key roles.
Tarochione was gender-blind in her casting (not a problem); reset the play in 1970s New York City and Westchester (problematic but not insurmountable); and then imposed a racy, over-the-top style (problem) that was constantly at war with the inherent wit and style of Wilde's apparently indestructible warhorse. On top of that, details like accents and character names were not changed to accommodate the new locations and nationalities, resulting in slight confusion as to time, place, and identity. And Craig Skelton, sulkily fey as Algernon, just didn't have the resources to make his character (and his sexuality) entirely convincing.
That said, there were many things to be enjoyed, not the least of which were Christopher Andersson's Lady Bracknell and Jeff Seabaugh's Cecily. Andersson made a thoroughly enchanting Bracknell - imposing, but quite humorously aware of the character's strengths and weaknesses; his Bracknell was surprisingly human, and outrageously funny. Likewise Seabaugh's Cecily was a delight from beginning to end. Randy Lichtenwalner's set and costume designs (especially those hats!) were creative evocations of an early '70s upper-class world (his use of Astroturf was ingenious), and the production was beautifully lighted by Igor Goldin and Jeffrey J. Bateman. Tarochione's sound was perhaps a tad too loud at times (as were some of the performances), but her choice of music was true to her concept, and surprisingly apt.
Andersson and Seabaugh (and to a slightly lesser extent Mark Finley and Mala Santouri as Jack and Gwendolyn), as well as a fast pace and a gorgeous production design, made this Earnest eminently watchable. When it was good, it was very good. But it left one regretting that the entire evening hadn't bubbled over with the elegant precision of its best moments.
(Also featuring Scott Gilmore, Rebecca Kendall, Billy Prahin, and Jodi Lynn Smith.)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita