The Impotence of Being Earnest

For his birthday we took Eldest Weed to the Shakespeare Theater's production of the Importance of Being Earnest. As none of the Weedlets as yet has caught the theater bug that so infects their mother, it did my heart good to hear him cracking up laughing the entire time.

In spite of its reputation for brilliance it's not my favorite Wilde play. It's wonderfully witty, but mere wittiness wears, I find, and I always think this play (in any rendition) goes on a bit too long --two-and-a-half hours with two intermissions, for farce?

Probably that's not fair. In its time Earnest would have been a pointed cultural critique, deftly skewering pretensions with the lightest possible touch. As the heirs of said skewering, however, we're sort of innoculated against the play's bite -- we already agree with Wilde and are in on the joke, so the play is reduced to a set piece. Still funny, no longer so earnest.

However, that criticism of the play takes away nothing from this tightly-paced, well-observed performance. What's lovely is that there are no weak links: very fine work from each actor, making for a strong, even ensemble, which is really necessary to pull off the repartee. Nothing is worse than Wilde's banter in the hands of either an outrageous ham or a milquetoast. Well done, casting director. Well done, director Keith Baxter.

The production's supported by absolutely gorgeous costumes and elegant sets -- after the first intermission, when the curtain rose on the second act, the audience audibly gasped and then applauded the set change, if that tells you anything. The posh interior of a London townhome in act one is utterly transformed into a country garden for the last two acts. You can get a little taste of the costumes and that set in this video montage.

In short, a good bit of fun, though nothing of any importance -- except perhaps as an invitation to someone to create a  contemporary Earnest, skewering the pretensions of our time.