Oscar Wilde’s classic comedic skewering of the British class system, The Importance of Being Earnest has received numerous non-traditional revivals since it premiered in 1895. There have been male Lady Bracknells, gender-reversed casting and time changes.
For The Importance of Being Earnestly LGBTQ+ which wildly lives up to its title, director Maarten Cornelis updates Wilde’s scenario to present day New York City. Currency is in dollars; Manhattan landmarks replace London ones, though the fabled cucumber sandwiches remain. Amanda Scanze’s splendorous fashionista-type costume design and Martina Duque Gonzalez’s artfully basic scenic and projection design are all contemporary. Mr. Cornelis places us in an affectionate fantasyland true to the spirit of Wilde where logical inconsistencies and anachronisms are to be taken in stride.
Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing are still upper-class charmers pretending to be named Ernest to romance their eccentric objects of desire. Instead of Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax, here we get Cecil and Gwyn. This production’s chief virtue is its matter of fact and sensual depiction of same-sex attraction. That is achieved through Cornelis’ skillful direction, his otherworldly lighting design and his energetic ensemble.
Bantam, wiry and animated Clint Blakely’s Algernon has the verve of the young James Cagney. Long-haired, thin and hyper Kenon Veno’s giddy Gwyn is a delightful characterization. Together, Mr. Blakely and the taller Mr. Veno have a quirky chemistry. With his chiseled facial features, dancer-like litheness, imposing height, and likability, Preston Fox is an appealing Jack. The slim, regal and throaty Michael Morley is an ideal Cecil, sparks fly between him and Mr. Fox. The Importance of Being Earnestly LGBTQ+ chiefly succeeds due to the palpable amorousness between this talented quartet.
Algernon’s aunt Lady Bracknell, that renowned gorgon who upholds high society’s hypocritical standards is one the greatest roles of the theater and several performers have been legendary in it. Turkish-born Denise Turkan’s portrayal is visually dazzling with her hilarious wide-eyed reactions, physically fluid movement and ingratiating Pedro Almodóvar-style presence. However, Ms. Turkan’s heavily accented occasionally tentative comic vocal delivery results in some of Wilde’s immortal lines not landing. The performance of The Importance of Being Earnestly LGBTQ+ under review was only the second of its weekly ones, perhaps Turkan will fully master the part during the show’s run. This limited playing schedule of such wordy material could also account for the pacing being off in general at times.
One of the biggest laughs of the evening occurs when the balletic and sly Alison Wien appears in the second act in male attire with a bushy black mustache as Jack’s manservant Lane. Ms. Randolph previously scored as Algernon’s female butler Merriman. Lauren E King’s Miss Prism and Marie Anello’s Dr. Chasuble are both winning, steadfast and daffy.
Cornelis’ inspired vision includes a snappy presentational opening sequence where the cast strut as if on a fashion show runway. There we meet the lean, scantily clad and high-heeled dancers J. Mahal and Lyman Heung who periodically prance throughout the show. This magnetic duo also appear as attendants to Lady Bracknell, snapping fans, voguing and throwing shade with brio.
The Importance of Being Earnestly LGBTQ+ is a theatrical alternative romp.
The Importance of Being Earnestly LGBTQ+ (Tuesdays through December 21, 2021)
Write Act Repertory & Gatehouse Entertainment
Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.writeactrep.org
Running time: two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission