Review: The Importance of Being Earnest
The Roundabout Theatre Company revives Oscar Wilde's perfect farce imperfectly.
Fri Jan 14 2011
Photographs: Joan Marcus
WILDE AT HEART Bedford, right, dons a dress for comedy.
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
An optimal revival of The Importance of Being Earnest ought to be an utter waste of time, and therefore wholly delightful. Forgive the sub-Wildean quippery, but who wouldn't want to fritter away hours, ignorantly, due to narcotizing joy? If our lives must dribble away on a temporal plane, let it be a high-flying plane, one that zooms off and leaves us transported. By that standard, the Roundabout Theatre Company's semi-import (two of its actors and half of its design originated in Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival) is stuck somewhere between strolling and soaring. It's pleasant, but doesn't waste one's time quite well enough.
Earnest hasn't been on Broadway since 1977, and I pray we don't have to wait until the 2040s to get another attempt (preferably from London). Brian Bedford revives the actor-manager tradition, staging the play and giving himself the plum plummy role of Lady Bracknell, paragon of upper-crust snobbery and dispenser of some of the script's tartest epigrams. Bracknell (indelibly incarnated by Dame Edith Evans in the 1951 film version) is principally a vocal creature: She curbs the romantic ardor of her nubile daughter, Gwendolyn (Sara Topham), and Gwendolyn's suitor, Jack Worthing (David Furr), with the withering power of dour vowels and clipped consonants. But, whereas Evans elongated the a sounds in "A handbag?" for comic effect, Bedford whisper-gasps the line in scandal upon hearing that his daughter's intended was found in just such a conveyance. At other times, the falsetto-speaking Bedford throws in manly bass tones for laughs.
Wilde's play is as perfect a social comedy as exists, with burbling badinage, ingenious plotting and a happy willingness to halt the action for the sake of silliness—usually revolving around Algernon (frisky Santino Fontana) and snacks. You'd have to be a tone-deaf bunch of actors or a lame director not to pluck jollity from Wilde's supreme farce. Bedford and his appealing ensemble are competent and spirited, but the time passes too palpably—one might even say, too earnestly.
American Airlines Theatre. By Oscar Wilde. Dir. Brian Bedford. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.