Oscar Wilde’s best known play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” could just as easily be titled, “The Importance of Casting the Right Actress as Lady Bracknell.”
From Dame Edith Evans through Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench right up to Mr. Brian Bedford (in the 2011 Broadway revival), Lady Bracknell is used to represent the pompous upper echelon of late 19th-century English society.
The part has provided plenty of talented actors of both sexes the chance to shine in what is essentially a small supporting role.
But Lady Bracknell knows there are no small roles, just small actors.
In a piece riddled with smartly written and extremely funny lines, Lady Bracknell plumbs the best of the bunch.
Upon hearing that lead character Jack Worthing was orphaned as a child, her retort remains one of the best zingers in English literature.
“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune,” she says, “to lose both looks like carelessness.”
In Titan Theatre Co.’s thoroughly delightful and achingly funny production of Wilde’s masterpiece, now at the Queens Theatre until Nov. 8, Angela Iannone steals each scene in which her Lady Bracknell appears.
Iannone along with director Terry Layman—who keeps the action zooming along, stopping just long enough for the laughs to wash over the audience—make the brilliant decision to allow Lady Bracknell the luxury of running up to the line of being a cartoon character, but never over it.
Iannone’s Lady Bracknell does not waste one glance down her nose, nor does she allow one punch line to miss its mark.
But the same could be said about the uniformly excellent cast.
As Jack (Earnest) Worthing, Marc LeVasseur nicely captures the panic that consumes his character as his carefully crafted web of deception begins its inevitable unraveling.
Titan’s artistic director, Lenny Banovez, in a rare on-stage role, is delightfully smarmy as Algernon Moncrieff, who shows more concern for a tray of cucumber sandwiches than he does for his friend Jack.
The slightly unbalanced Cecily, played to perfection by Maggie Wetzel, has created an imaginary courtship and engagement—and even called off the wedding—before ever meeting her betrothed. The governess Miss Prism, a wonderfully befuddled Christy Richardson, mistakes a manuscript for a baby and vice versa.
But the key to a successful farce is ensuring the cast plays it straight.
And despite the ridiculousness of their situations, the characters legitimately believe they are acting according to the dictates of good society.
Deflecting the realities and ugliness of real life may look good to outsiders, who are most likely participating in their own game of charades, but in the end Wilde’s characters demonstrate that it is a futile way to make it through life.
But then, that seems to be his point, as well as his insistence on the importance of being true to oneself.
If You Go
“The Importance of Being Earnest”
When: Through Nov. 8
Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Ave., Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Contact: (718) 760-0064
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm
©2015 Community News Group
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