For a work to continue being risqué for roughly 118 years speaks both to its genius and to the constancy of what we find funny. I’m not talking about being academically ribald, but being a rib-splitter. TheatreWorks’ new offering Being Earnest is a reimagining of such a work. This new take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest works remarkably well. The script is sufficiently loyal to the original text so as not to offend purists while introducing enough new material to serve the spirit of the work. One imagines Oscar Wilde smirking with approval.
The early ’60’s Carnaby St. backdrop is remarkably effective on two levels. First, early ‘60’s London turned on youth, style, and sex – elements without which Wilde would be airless. Think Twiggy, Yves St. Laurent’s Mondrian collection, Mary Quant (whose web site still echoes the Mondrian boxes and colors), and Marianne Faithful in a fur rug and you’ll be on the set of Being Earnest. As a friend noted, the only other time this work possibly be set would be the 1920’s. Second, this had to be British. The American take on the ‘60’s has been worked and reworked so many times (including the recent TheatreWorks Wheelhouse) that it has gotten old indeed. Keeping it British kept it authentic and provided a shot of novelty.
Much of the success of this particular production lies with Euan Morton, who played a puckishly insouciant Algernon Moncrieff, and Hayden Tee, as the deceptively staid Jack Worthing. Morton’s voice carried this musical, with music by Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska, and lyrics by Gordon. This music is fun. Morton and Tee recaptured the Merseyside beat, particularly with irresistibly high energy songs like “Brothers.”
Credit also must be given to the female side of this imagining, with Mindy Lym as Gweldolen and Riley Krull as Cecily. The costuming of these two will be in my mind for weeks to come. Maureen McVerry provided a much needed counterweight to the youthful actors, playing the indomitable Lady Bracknell.
This work had so few flaws that it didn’t feel like a world premier. TheatreWorks nurtured this play, beginning development shortly after their premier of another Paul Gordon’s musical Daddy Long Legs. The first act contains a brief section where the energy wanes, leaving it feeling draggy. However, this is immediately rectified in the second act.
The subtitle of the Importance of being Earnest is A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. Being Earnest certainly fits this bill, making it a fun evening out. Seriously.