Monday, March 19, 2012

727. Of Vital Importance - a theater review



I'm politely shocked that there is only one mention - on March 15, 2007 - of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest anywhere to be found on my blog. Rather like those precious cucumber sandwiches Aunt Augusta was expecting, there just isn't any, more than the one instance, of Earnest to be found - not even for ready money.

Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest, was written in the town of Worthing, England in late summer of 1894. Its first performance was made on February 14th of the next year, a date which has a role in the play. It has long, long been one of my favorite plays and I have seen several performances of it over the years, the first I recall being in the Fine Arts Center at the University of Kentucky on Rose Street, just south of Euclid Avenue. I also have several copies of the play itself, and have committed to memory many of the lines, many of which set me on an uncontrollable laughter for minutes at a time. The play is a series of witty puns and wordplays mostly about the importance of the trivial versus the inanity of the serious. It follows the story of two mischievous friends, John "Jack" (and later Ernest John) Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff.

Earlier this evening, my friend Preston Bates and I took in the Savage Rose Classical Theater Company's performance of this favorite play of mine, staged at Walden Theater, housed in the former Saint Aloysius School on Payne Street in Louisville's Irish Hill neighborhood. Tonight was the closing show, a run which began on March 9th.

This production was played in three acts - in Algernon's home, then the garden at Jack Worthing's Manor House, and finally the interior rooms of the Manor House. The characters of the play, in addition to Algernon and Jack are Lane, who is Algernon's manservant; Algernon's aunt, Augusta, and her daughter Gwendolyn; Jack's ward, Cecily; Jack's butler, Merriman; Cecily tutor, Miss Prism; and the local rector, the Rev. Canon Chasuble. And a handbag, with handles, which had been inadvertently left at the Victoria Station cloak room of the Brighton Line. This performance was under the direction of Charlie Fields, director, and Melinda Crecelius, assistant director.

In tonight's performance, two portrayals easily stood out - that of Lady Bracknell - of course - and that of Jack Worthing, later Ernest Moncrieff.

Lady Bracknell was portrayed by J. Barrett Cooper. In all the performances I've seen of the play, Cooper's crossdressing to create Lady Bracknell is the most overwhelming I've ever encountered - truly Wagnerian. I've always had an image in my mind of what Lady Bracknell should look like and up until tonight I had not seen that character. That has changed. The Cooperian Lady Bracknell was truly Wagnerian, to say the least. Some of the pregnant pauses taken by the character were a little too pregnant and the effect was, ever so slightly, sometimes lost by a second or two. But the change in voice when Lady Bracknell recognises Miss Prism, or Prism or, as you would text it to indicate the boldness of the voice, PRISM, brought the character back to a full dramatization. Her stern looks and, what can I say, broad shoulders, brought Lady Bracknell to the stentorian life which Wilde's pen had truly created for her - a good performance.

Cecily Cardew, the ward of Jack Worthing, was portrayed in sweet and enchanting innocence by Julane Havens who has been seen over in Central Park in recent years. My seven faithful readers will recall that I am a faithful attendee at Shakespeare in the Park in the summer months. Ms. Havens was wonderful as the young ward and love-interest for Algernon. Her foil in the play is Gwendolyn Fairfax, Lady Bracknell's daughter. Gwendolyn was performed by Natalie Fields, a graduate of Walden School who went away to college for her drama degrees. She and Cooper's Lady Bracknell looked amazingly "related." Ms. Fields must somehow be "really" some kin to Mr. Cooper.

Cecily's love-item in the play, stated earlier, is one of the two main characters, Algernon Moncrieff, played by a personal acquaintance and Facebook friend, Mike Slaton. Mike has been on local stages for years and I have seen him in a variety of roles. His performance tonight as the idle but handsome Algernon was fun to watch, especially as he described and defended his bunburying activities. (One might ask some of the Yarmuth for Congress 2006 campaign crew to define "nobling" for you as it is related to "bunburying.")

Tony Prince is another long-time local actor this time portraying the Rev. Doctor Chasuble, the local rector, provider of unpublished sermons and adult christenings at the ring of a bell. His opposite-sex interest in the play is Miss Prism, played by Kelly Moore, reprising the same role she played a decade ago. She is appropriately deferant to Lady Bracknell when the details as to her unfortunate day "28 years ago" are bought to life.

The two "manservants" were played by Gerry Rose, as Lane in Algernon's household, and Monte Priddy, as Merriman in Jack's country residence. I am not familiar with Rose but will make the guess that his last name is somewhat responsible for the Rose name in the theater company. I don't know that - just venturing a guess. Monte Priddy has been acting in Louisville as long as I have been alive, many times at Central Park. I've seen him in more roles than I can remember. He is a Louisville drama treasure.

But for me, the Oscar easily goes to Neill Robertson and his portrayal of the central character, indeed the title character, of the play, Jack Worthing, who in the end discovers the vital importance of being earnest. Mr. Robertson is unfamiliar to me, and I would easily remember his striking facial features and beautiful curly gingerhead curls. (Baldies notice hair). Robertson played the role to the top of the game, responding to Algernon, Lady Bracknell, and all the characters with a variety of looks, some of fear, others of anger, and others of interest. His voices in the play were much on target. He reminded me of my friend Callaway Kosine in appearance and demeanor and tone of voice and I said as much to Preston who, he informed me, has yet to meet Callaway. But, I digress.
Robertson was absolutely delightful to watch in every way and I look forward to seeing him again. His was the worthiest Jack Worthing I've had the pleasure to watch.

It was a wonderful, wonderful night. We began a little early at the Garage Bar and ended with dinner at Ramsi's. Quite and pleasurable evening. Thanks, Preston.

For more information on the Savage Rose Theatre Company, visit their website at savagerose.org.

1 comment:

Curtis Morrison said...

I didn't know Mike was in it. Neat.

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Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Single, male, bald, overweight, early 50s, seeking . . . Oh wait, that's goes on the other website. How about this - never married, liberal Democrat, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.