29 March 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest

Attending a Broadway production is always fun, even if the show turns out to be mediocre. But when the show is outstanding and you spend a good part of two hours laughing as I did the other night at a revival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, it's a complete treat.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a satirical comedy that takes aim at marriage and the social tenants of Victorian England. The story involves characters who maintain fictitious relatives and friends (Bunbury) in order to escape social duties, women who love only men named Ernest, and a mystery about a baby left in a handbag at a train station. In short, it's a deliciously enjoyable play, and this latest revival does not disappoint.

Jessie Austrian, David Furr, and Brian Bedford.

The sets are beautiful and the performances, along with the accents, strong (I particularly liked David Furr as Jack Worthing). Yet the show belongs to Brian Bedford who, in addition to directing the production, portrays the indomitable Lady Bracknell, one of the great comedic characters in theatre. Bedford dominates the stage from the moment he first appears in the doorway of Algernon's drawing room. With a voice that could command an army, Lady Bracknell lectures and bullies those around her in the guise of upholding society's mores while refusing to acknowledge her own hypocrisy. When she learns of Jack's origin during a grilling on his potential as a son-in-law (one of the best scenes in the play) her utterance of the single word "handbag" speaks volumes about her and society.

 movements, from wrinkling his nose as if there's a bad smell to smiling coyly at Cecily, along with his delivery are spot on. Lady Bracknell has some of the best lines in the play, and Bedford recites them with gusto. In response to Algernon's news of his friend Bunbury's latest illness, "Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or die." And the classic "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness." Indeed. 

The Importance of Being Earnest plays at the American Airlines Theatre through July 3. If you get the chance to attend a Broadway show, make this the one. Lady Bracknell would approve.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

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