Redundant as the adjective may seem, a gay The Importance Of Being Earnest has made its coming out at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Queer Classics’ fresh new take on the Oscar Wilde classic proving to be not only the finest acted and directed but also the most polished Fringe 2014 show I’ve seen.
Director-adapter Casey Kringlen’s concept is brilliant in its simplicity. Change Gwendolen and Cecily from sweet-young-girls to sweet-young-boys, pronouns from feminine to masculine, and poof! Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff now live in an alternate Victorian universe in which it’s perfectly proper for handsome young men to court—and marry—each other. (Poof indeed.)
With Wilde’s text edited down to a lickety-split ninety minutes (and no visible cuts or splices), Kringlen’s Earnest bubbles like pink champagne and sparkles like the eyes of its smitten quartet of young male lovers.
The plot is the same one that has delighted audiences for the past hundred-nineteen years. Gwendolen and Cecily, for reasons too complicated to explain here, each believes the object of her, sorry make that his, affection to be named Earnest, making nuptials with Jack and Algernon an impossibility unless the two lovestruck swain can do some name-changing before final curtain.
Adding to the madcap mayhem are Gwendolen’s mother Lady Bracknell, Cecily’s governess Ms. Prism, countryside rector Dr. Chasuble, and a pair of butlers, Algernon’s Lane and Jack’s Merriman.
Boone Platt’s rakish Jack, Philip Orazio’s stalwart Algernon, Nancy La Scalla’s imperious Lady Bracknell, and Eric DeLoretta’s upstairs-downstairs pair of butlers are all Grade-A comic gems, as are Jeff Elam’s Dr. Chasuble and Megan Soule’s Ms. Prism. Even better, if such a thing is possible, are Mason McCulley’s prim-and-proper Gwendolen and Grant Jordan’s sweet-and-saucy Cecily.
Dan Weingarten’s expert lighting gives the production’s spiffy gay apparel and its simple but elegant blackbox scenic design an almost fully-staged look.
Kringlen directs masterfully with imagination to spare, from clever 4th-wall-breaking to sassy double-entendre-ing to a suggestion or two of master-servant hanky-panky.
The Importance Of Being Earnest may well have promised audiences a gay old time in the years since its London debut, but I’ll wager, never a gayer—or better—time than this.
June 22, 2104
Photos: Tina Pugliese