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Monday, March 09, 2009
Earnest Rides Again
I got a chance to play theater critic again at Portland Center Stage last week. A production of The Importance of Being Earnest is currently running through March 29th in the Gerding Theater. It's a far cry from the last show that appeared on the theater's main stage, the lavish but dense and overlong Apollo. I was in a production of Earnest back in high school and, despite having once spent two months listening to the dialog over and over again, I still have a hard time keeping up with Oscar Wilde's century-old wit.
Earnest is a snide satire of Victorian England's idle upper-classes and the playwright's last work before he found himself immersed in a nasty scandal that led to his death. Some critics claim the play contains plenty of gay subtext but PCS shies away from all of that....or does it? James Knight's performance as Algernon is a bit over-the-top but here all the "Bunburying" is bound by the standard interpretation of the phrase.
If you've never seen it, Earnest centers around the exploits of two 19th-century playboys, Jack and Algernon, who spend their days embedding themselves (yeah, pun intended) in various affairs, deceits and aliases. Their efforts to juggle their gal-pals all come crashing down during a trip to Jack's country estate when the identity of both of them are called into question.
The dialog can be tough to keep up with but Earnest really does have some great one-liners. Director Chris Coleman keeps the pace fast and furious and the performances are all spot on but PCS' Earnest remains a perfectly standard production of the play. It's great for what it is but I wonder what Earnest would be like if it were tweaked ala those Shakespearean productions down in Ashland. What would the play look like if it were set in Nazi-era Germany or given a steam punk theme? Ok, ok, it would never work and Wilde's wit doesn't need to get suited up in such gimmickry.
One other thing and a quick SPOILER warning for those who have never seen or read Earnest. I did the math afterward and, if I'm correct here, the last few lines of the play reveal that Jack's fiancee Gwendolen is also his first cousin.
Oh, those naughty, naughty aristocrats.