Author: Jonathan Warman

Theatre Review: “The Importance of Being Earnest”

by Jonathan Warman

Oscar Wilde wrote this, his last, most beloved and sparkling comedy, at the end of a decidedly less queer century (the 19th), less than a year before anti-homosexual persecution would destroy his career and hasten his too-early demise. In it, Messrs. Jack Worthington and Algernon Moncrieff lead busy double lives in high style: creating false identities, wooing well-bred young ladies, visiting imaginary invalids and (equally imaginary) wayward brothers.

Director Brian Bedford, who also plays colorful gentry gorgon Lady Bracknell in this bright, vigorous production, has successfully captured the unbridled joy with which Wilde suffused every line. Too often, productions of Earnest catch the surface brittleness and brio of Wilde’s language, without ever evoking the utterly happy, positively hedonistic glee that lies behind it. Bedford is plainly having the time of his life playing Bracknell, and just as clearly has encouraged his castmates to make a full meal of this classic comic feast. 

Those castmates are truly terrific, particularly Santino Fontina as Algernon Moncrieff. If there is a self-portrait of Wilde in Earnest, it’s Algernon, and Fontina captures Wilde’s anarchic drive better than any other actor I’ve seen play the role. I still feel I haven’t seen an ideal Algie yet – we should feel as though Oscar himself is present when Algie speaks, and Fontina doesn’t quite reach that, but he comes close enough to light a vivifying fire in this central role.

David Furr is easily the hunkiest Jack Worthing I’ve every seen, evoking the very soul of late Victorian moustachioed woofiness in a role that often gets interpreted as an unsexy stick in the mud. Bedford as Bracknell is the production’s main draw, and he gives the role an unexpected glamour and giddiness (much aided by costume designer Desmond Heeley’s glittery creations). Never has this formidable Lady been this much flat-out fun. This is as good as a production of Earnest as we can expect to see on Broadway for many a year, and you owe it to our sainted Oscar to catch it while you can.

For tickets, click here. 

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

Theatre Review: “Green Eyes”

by Jonathan Warman

Tennessee Williams spent a lot of time in hotels and boarding houses; since he used both his own life and first-hand observation as his primary source material, he wrote lots of plays set in hotels and boarding houses. In 2009, I directed Williams’s one-act The Strangest Kind of Romance as part of a project that staged a handful of such plays in actual hotel rooms (this project will be touring the country this year).

Director Travis Chamberlain uses a similar approach for the New York premiere of Williams’s Green Eyes though for slightly different reasons. Green Eyes looks at what we would today call PTSD through the sexual fantasies of a young couple honeymooning in New Orleans. He’s an impotent soldier, traumatized by war; she’s a highly sexual woman negotiating between her rational needs and her irrational desires.

In one long, electrifying scene, Green Eyes provocatively juxtaposes war and sex. The green eyes of the title are ambiguous: are they the “green eyes” of unfounded jealousy or the actual green eyes of a specific third person not in the room? Williams’s leaves this unclear, and Chamberlain milks that uncertainty for all the tension, sexual and otherwise, that he can.

Chamberlain has also staged Green Eyes in a actual hotel room at the Hudson Hotel, a hotel incidentally known for its green décor. His does so to establish intimacy and highten the danger explicit in Williams’s script. He seats the audience in two rows facing the bed; I wonder if it wouldn’t have been more effective, for intimacy’s sake, to scatter audience around the room (there may have been safety considerations, since he has given Green Eyes a very physical staging).

Chamberlain has cast two actors supremely well suited for their roles. Erin Markey wisely avoids any hint of Blanche DuBois in her take on Mrs. Claude Dunphy, instead giving us a very specific young Southern woman on the verge. The hunky Adam Couperthwaite hits just the right note of simmering hungover rage, with flashes of vitality that give Claude much more texture. All in all, an exciting new look at Williams.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

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