Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which has been running at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway since mid-December, adds weight to the saying that it’s a lot easier to trash something in writing than it is to praise it. I thus have little to add to the many glowing reviews of this production, except more ecstatic superlatives. With the exception of some of the backdrops, which might have been painted a bit more richly, or made to look somewhat less fake—and ultimately, really, who cares about the damned backdrops?—this is about as close to a perfect production as I have ever seen. Even the woman playing the maid who walks on to serve tea in the second act and then walks right back off again is perfectly cast. The show, which I saw last week and which has only grown in my estimation since, serves as a humbling reminder that while there is a whole lot of very good theater out there, it is the rare production that comes as close as this one does to being absolutely superb.

I was told once by an old colleague that the infamous flop Carrie was so terrifically bad that it regularly earned wild standing ovations after many performances during its doomed New York run. In contrast, this production of The Importance of Being Earnest was so good that I was unable to bring myself to stand at the end of it. Standing ovations have become such a marker of mediocrity on Broadway at this point that to have stood for this production would, I think, have somehow cheapened the experience. This was an excellent show. Please don’t miss it.

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