This is just a quick post-mortem on a truly bizarre Importance of Being Earnest down at Trinity Rep (which I caught with a group of mortified IRNE critics last week). The general response to the show among our merry band was, "What were they thinking?," although to my mind it was rather obvious what they were thinking: make 'em laugh! Which isn't a bad policy in general, of course, and the audience did laugh, although this was mostly due to the fact that everything was played as broadly as possible. Of course to keep up some sense of their own sophistication, the actors played the broadness in self-aware "air quotes." There were also, for reasons unknown, interpolated bits from the music hall (and I think G&S), a strange movement solo that looked like something from Cats, and various little parodies of leaps of joy, etc. But wait, there's more: the set, by Michael McGarty, for other reasons unknown, leaned toward the post-modern autumnal (complete with a self-conscious proscenium), while William Lane's costumes ran toward pant suits and turbans. The whole thing played as a weird, contradictory pastiche of current suburban and theatre-school notions about the Victorians; but about Wilde or his aesthetic it had nothing to do at all. So I guess mission accomplished; at least at a meta level the production played as paradox, although, alas, a slightly crass one.
To be fair, director Beth Milles was not working with an ideal cast; indeed, the show reminded one of the limits of the repertory system (i.e., having to squeeze actors into roles that aren't quite right for them). The usually reliable Mauro Hantmann seemed quite wrong for Jack Worthing, and Angela Brazil chewed the scenery with gusto as Gwendolyn; meanwhile Janice Duclos made a fairly mediocre Lady Bracknell (even flubbing a few of the most famous lines in the play). There was better, or at any rate fresher, work from newcomers Karl Gregory (Algernon) and Rebecca Gibel (Cecily, with Gregory above left), but they could hardly triumph over the director's heavy, indicative hand. Well, at least it's over, I suppose.