The Importance of Being Earnest is a rare piece in which a classic play is given new life and luster. Oscar Wilde’s farce remains entertaining and enjoyable and becomes a new treat with Brian Bedford getting into drag as the formidable Lady Bracknell.
In this Roundabout Theatre Company production, The Importance of Being Earnest follows Jon Worthing (David Furr) and Algernon Moncrieff (Santino Fontana) as they lust after Gwendolen Fairfax (Sara Topham) and Cecily Cardew (Charlotte Parry).
In the three-act play (the first of which gives little prelude to the dexterous humor soon to come), both men create imaginary characters and identities to hide alternate doings, thus insuring the dissatisfaction of Gwendolen’s mother, the brazen Lady Bracknell.
The scenario is the perfect fodder for a farce of cheesy, yet grand, proportions.
Fontana is very much at home on the stage, and Algernon fits him like a glove. His physical humor and chiding tone are masterful and energetic.
Brian Bedford is the only actor who manages to upstage him, and this seems to stem more from his renowned history in the theater than from talent.
However, Bedford (who also directed the play) gives Lady Bracknell a blunt, stick-in-the-ass veneer that is also very funny when paired with Fontana and Furr’s young bachelors.
“Don’t speak disrespectfully of society, Algernon,” says Lady Bracknell. “Only people who can’t get into it do that.”
Though the ladies in the production are well-cast, they tend to be overshadowed by their male (or male-in-drag) counterparts.
Dana Ivey pops up as Cecily’s tutor, Miss Prism, a small part that doesn’t allow for enough use of the theater vet’s talent. However, Ivey’s priggish character is a pleasure to watch in the small moments during which she pursues her affection for Paxton Whitehead’s Reverend Chausible.
Costume designer Desmond Heeley has the women adorned in beautiful, prismatic period get-ups depicting their notches in society, making their appearances exciting in their own right.
The most spellbinding feature of this rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest is the profundity with which Wilde’s already endearing play is brought to life.
A set that literally comes alive with plentiful roses is only complemented by the intriguing costumes and the ease with which the actors move through it.
The earnestness with which Bedford made the play a consistently fun experience is tangible and delicious. Gwendolen says it best when she remarks of the name Earnest: “It produces vibrations.”
That it does, with great delight.