There are those rare moments in the theater when a new production of a classic somehow manages to surpass all icons of its past - when an audience can somehow see the play anew, in spite of its history, as if century-old gags had been penned by a budding young playwright of the current season. It is during these extraordinary moments that audiences remember the power of live theater and feel fortunate to be part of the viewing experience. Such was the impact of Theater Ten Ten's new staging of Oscar Wilde's quintessential comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest.
The wheel of fashion has placed Wildian humor atop our culture of late, perhaps influenced by the centennial of Wilde's famous imprisonment. Recent works of the last few years have exalted Wilde as a legend, a literary force worthy of all this modern homage, including the 1997 film Wilde starring Stephen Fry; Tom Stoppard's newest play, The Invention of Love, (which features Wilde as a sort of coup de theatre/deus ex machina), and of course Moises Kaufman's off-Broadway smash, Gross Indecency.
However, in spite of this modern mania for the persona of Wilde, Theater Ten Ten's production was a reminder that all modern glorifications and revisionist histories, though clever and entertaining, pale compared to the perfect style, language, wisdom, and wit of the late-Victorian master himself.
The production packed its primary punch through a pair of impeccable performances by Jay Nickerson and David Kroll as Jack and Algernon, the play's central figures, who romp through high society, idle afternoons, and, of course, the deceit of love and courtship. Kroll brought graceful subtlety to the foppish gestures of Algy, while Nickerson captured the essence of stable Jack with added touches of hypocrisy and craftiness. Somehow surpassing either individual performance was the amazing chemistry of the pair; their sense of pace and comic timing was always perfect.
Judith Jarosz and Stephanie Lynge were marvelous as their love interests, Gwendolen and Cecily, especially during their second-act scene in the garden. Here, the meeting of opposites - Lynge's sweet, simple Cecily and the worldly arrogance of Jarosz's Gwendolen - made for a delicious confrontation. Also splendid was Kathleen Huber as Gwendolen's brooding matriarch, Lady Bracknell, who commanded the stage with her ceaseless tirades on the nature of the universe. John Johmann, Lorinda Lisitza, and Todd Schwarz filled out the cast with solid performances.
The production was adroitly crafted by the design team, who achieved
a level of technical intricacy and aesthetic beauty rare in an
Off-Off-Broadway venue. Anita Magyar's set design
was full of handsome period furniture, and David Zeffren's
lighting design was pleasingly complicated, incorporating specials
and practicals. But the costumes designed by Betsey Pangburn
took the cake (and bread and butter), especially her gorgeous
dresses for Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell. And you have to see
the hat plumage to believe it.
Director David Fuller merged these stellar components into a production that was unified and upbeat, one that ultimately placed its greatest emphasis where it belongs: on Wilde's clever comic structure and witty language. Not to be missed.
Return to Volume Four, Number Nine Index
Return to Volume Four Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 1998 Andrew Eggert