Earnestly Skewering Society Once Again
Those who may have seen and enjoyed The Importance of Being Ernest on stage or screen have never seen a production like this one! Director Nicole Stodard has given the play a complete facelift. All the witty repartee remains, refreshed in a brand new setting.
In this adaptation, no longer are we in the 1890’s Victorian England, but in Disco New York of the 1970’s where music sometimes interweaves with (or intrudes on) the plot, and echoes of Farrah Fawcett, Dianna Ross, Warren Beatty, and John Travolta resound in cast mannerisms and gestures. Three hours have neatly been trimmed to two. Set and costumes are modern and streamlined.
The same old social mores are skewered and satirized. If the earlier times were ones of upheaval, with a “surge of gender and sexual anarchy” (as Stodard maintains), her new version underscores this all by unique, clever casting. Females assume male roles, and vica versa, adding an unexpected, additional layer of humor to the romantic pairings. Elizabeth Price plays John Worthing, against Carey Brianna Hart as Gwendolen Fairfax (two women). In contrast, Noah Levine as Cecily Cardew is paired with Clay Cartland as Algernon Moncrieff (two men). The actors play their cross-roles with skillful aplomb. Petite Price, as Worthing, with painted moustache looks all the world like a caricatured Charlie Chaplin while tall Levine makes a very gangling blonde debutante, flirting hilariously with “her” lover, handsome, willowy Cartland as the rather smarmy Moncrieff.
From the moment the play opens, with Moncrieff reclining on a couch, calmly lifting cucumber slices from his closed eyelids to eat them, you know you are in for a delightful comedy.
The absurd plot, in a nutshell, concerns two bon vivants courting two aristocratic, frivolous young women who are only interested in marrying men with the sincere name of Ernest. Neither John nor Algernon fit the bill — although each lies. The neatest irony is that no one in the play is anywhere near being either earnest or forthright in this satiric view of society.
Plot threads include powerful Lady Bracknell (Karen Stephens) blocking the young romantics, additional courtship between elderly paid companion Miss Prism (Johnnie Bowls) and the Reverend Chasuble (Jim Gibbons), and revelation of the lineage of a baby abandoned years earlier in a handbag at a railway station lost-and-found counter — all deliciously far-fetched, carrying the audience along with the absurdity.
Oscar Wilde may well be beaming down on this production, giving it his blessing, enjoying his pithy dialogue — universally relevant and provocative. Here is only a smattering of examples:
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means….
In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing…..
The truth is rarely pure and never simple….
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train….
If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated….
NOTE: The Vanguard Sanctuary for the Performing Arts, a recently renovated church near downtown Ft. Lauderdale, is a charming, warm, intimate space with very comfortable seating for 99, a perfect venue for this play.
Beverly Friend, Ph.D.
Member, American Critics Association
Thinking Cap Theater at The Vanguard, 1501 S. Andrews Ave, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl, 33316, www.vanguardarts.org. 813-220-1546. Tickets $35 ($20 for students with ID) 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, through Dec 13. Run time 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission.