The play has been resurrected many times in the past century since Oscar Wilde’s first writing in 1895, but few renditions match the perfect execution of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s performance at the American Airlines Theatre. I remember first reading The Importance of Being Earnest for an English class in high school and fell in love with it again in 2002 when the movie starring Judi Dench and Colin Firth brought it to back to life. Seeing it in the flesh, however, brings a whole new perspective.
For starters, the Roundabout Theatre Company caters to the younger crowd by offering $20 tickets to Hip Tix members (requirements are that you are under age 35. Read here if you missed my post on this). This means for a little more than a NYC movie ticket you can see Victorian propriety come to life for over two hours.
For those unaware of the storyline, it revolves around two gentlemen, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, in pursuit of two eligible ladies, Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew. The mens’ courtship grows complicated when both men use the alias Earnest to cover up their weekend excursions. Further problems arise when the revered Lady Bracknell, who is played by Brian Bedford, closely guards each lady’s marriage eligibility.
At first I was skeptical when I discovered that Bedford would be playing Lady Bracknell’s role in addition to directing the play. Understandably, there are many all-men theatres but those are usually found in the Shakespeare space and as old as Wilde’s script itself. That skepticism was quickly erased as he/she entered the stage with the prestige to rival a queen, or any proper pearl-toting, tea-drinking, cucumber-sandwich-eating grandma! Over the course of the play I quickly forgot that Lady Bracknell was indeed a male, which is the highest compliment of Bedford’s directing and acting.
If there was ever sparkling execution of The Importance of Being Earnest, this is it. It doesn’t take much to enjoy this comedic play, but a great performance reminds us that many of the societal elements that Wilde wittily criticizes are still relevant in our modern, social media dominated era.
Don’t believe me? I”ll leave you with this Lady Bracknell line, “I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?”