There are three primary reasons to go see Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Arts Club Stanley Theatre :
(1) Wilde’s Gatling gun social commentary that is as trigger-quick in 2012 as it was in 1895;
(2) the inspired sets of designer Amir Ofek, and
(3) superb performances rendered particularly by the “downstairs” players : butler Allan Gray, tutor Deborah Williams, and cantor Simon Bradbury who give stellar support to the “upstairs” principals Ryan Beil – A&W’s helium hero from t.v. – Charlie Gallant and Allan Zinyk, with Zinyk in pantomime-drag as Lady Bracknell. [Given Wilde’s bi-sexuality and the currency of such matters still to-day, panto-casting Lady Bracknell was a clever touch by Director David Mackay].
The nearly full house Saturday, March 24th numbered mostly Grays – but no few Gen Y’s too – whose giggles and guffaws beside and behind me occasionally cost my ears a line or two. No matter : proof positive that Wilde’s dialogue can zing with younger patrons, too.
Designer Ofek’s first act set is a townhouse-sized top hat in front of a same-size vanity mirror, both anchored in front of scalloped asymmetrical ivory curtains. Bold. Rich. Ofek’s stacked giant steamer trunks in Act 2, for their part, lend a ton of support to the 120-year-old dialogue being bandied about atop them.
As well, Ofek’s set was perfectly synchronized by designer Nancy Bryant who suited- out the men in metrosexual Yaletown garb while contrasting the women in the buxom baroque finery of Victoria’s age. An excellent costume / set juxtaposition that treats the eyes.
As the earlier BLR preview points out, the play is British madcap stuff-&-nonsense about life’s favourite leitmotif : stupid human tricks borne of hypocrisy and hubris.
The two fake Ernests in Earnest have reptilian noses they look down to disdain their “inferiors”. Early on Algernon observes “A high moral tone is not good for one’s health”, while for his part Jack proclaims : “I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left." The mirror framing him answers that question right smartly.
Without a doubt what Wilde loved to do was focus on stereotypes and snipe at their self-congratulation – the smugness and silliness of their shallow souls – and he did so with great wit : “The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.” These are the pre-Hefner kinds of sniggers I alluded to before. Clever, fun, slightly unsettling in their relevance still to-day.
In all of this hi-jinx goofiness my wife and I agreed there was a “best line” in this play, believe it or not. A line that proves Oscar Wilde is utterly relevant for contemporary audiences.
Struggle and fight as we might, we are nevertheless condemned to live in a Facebook, Twitter, “BFF” universe – a world where kids text one another riding to Whistler in the same car…!
As between Gwendolyn and Cecily in the garden, this not-so-wee bit of satirical insight could easily have been scripted and YouTube’d instantly to-day :
“It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends once can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from anyone to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.”
Anyone with 748 Facebook friends *must* endure pain such as this btw, lol, wtf. Oscar Wilde in 1895 surely knew fake sincerity. As the bumper sticker said : “Fake sincerity’s almost as good as the real thing.”
Go see this play whatever your age, for all the reasons noted. Though Wilde’s garden scene at the start of Act 2 cries out for Twitter treatment, no one I heard leaving the theatre nattered much about that. They were all chuckling and snorfling too much for such small carps to be remembered.
P.S. Deborah Williams’s hand gestures as Miss Prism were without a doubt my favourite bit of tight-acting-stage-business in the entire play. Followed by the dipsomaniac butler Lane in Act 1 and the dottery Scot Merriman in Act 2 played flawlessly by Allan Gray – his make-up and mien were superb in both. Oh fun !