THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST UNDERSTUDY PERFORMANCE

DSC01020 “Who needs rehearsal?” may be my facetious reaction to an understudy’s pitch-perfect (and often at-a-moment’s-notice) performance, but this reviewer never ceases to be amazed at the incredible breed of actor who can undertake—and nail—the assignment of covering a major role without benefit of weeks of rehearsal.

Proof that understudies do indeed rock was once again evident at the second of two scheduled understudy performances of Queer Classics’ The Importance Of Being Earnest, the Scenie-winning Hollywood Fringe Festival Production Of The Year, currently back for a four-week run at Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre.

Adding extra luster to this stellar group of “covers” (that’s theater talk for understudies) is just how hard-to-follow an act they were following. Earnest’s Fringe Festival cast did after all win a Scenie as the Comedic Ensemble Of The Year.

Still, follow this act the understudies did, and despite a somewhat rushed, hushed first scene, before long all seven understudies were on a roll.

And speaking of rolls (or roles as the case may be), audience members who have seen both casts could not help but marvel at the individual—and often remarkably distinct—stamp each new actor brought to his or her role.

A radiant Casey Kringlen (who also directed) gave Algernon a sly, seductive sophistication opposite Michael Patrick’s feisty swashbuckler of a Jack/Earnest.

Cristina Franco’s divinely imperious Lady Bracknell, Gina Torrecilla’s prim-but-lusty Miss Prism, Darrell Philip’s quintessentially fussy English Reverend Chasuble, and Jeffrey Masters’ saucy pair of not-so-manly manservants were all delights.

As for Earnest’s two delicate damsels turned luscious lads, Nathan Mohebbi and Alex van der Hoek took full advantage of the gender-swapping to make Gwendolen and Cecily two of the four most irresistible boys in town (the other two appearing in Earnest’s main cast).

With the devilishly handsome Mohebbi unleashing his inner diva as the “my way or the highway” Gwendolen and the sassy, sexy van der Hoek turning Cecily into Britain’s Top Model circa 1895, lens-ready poses practiced to perfection, it’s easy to understand why any young man of society would find himself as mad about the boys as do Algy and Jack.

Returning to the question of who needs rehearsals … well, of course every actor does, but no theatergoer can fail to marvel at any understudy who has learned his or her role almost entirely through observation—often not allowed until final dress or previews—and a whole lot of homework.

One thing is certain. Should any of this septet be asked to step into one of the remaining two weekends of performances of this must-see The Importance Of Being Earnest, audiences are guaranteed one gloriously gay evening of theater at its Oscar Wilde-est.

–Steven Stanley
November 4, 2014