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A Gay Importance of Being Earnest
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HOLLYWOOD FRINGE: ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ At The Actors Company
Toby.Brown | June 9, 2014 | 10:46 p.m. PDT
There are some playwrights who would be outraged to learn of a future where the female roles they wrote were transformed into male roles in order to further an agenda of normalizing homosexuality… but Oscar Wilde would probably not be one of them. Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” has been argued by many scholars as being a lightly veiled comedy about secret homosexuality—apparently all but completely unnoticed by its Victorian audience who praised its humor when it premiered in 1895. A perpetual favorite of theaters large and small, LA’s Queer Classics have returned “Earnest“ to its homosexual roots. In this version directed by Casey Kringlen, all four of the lovers are played by men.
Interestingly, the production makes only the slightest changes to the original script. The names of the female lovers, Gwendolen and Cecily, are kept intact, though all of the gendered pronouns are male. Thus, the original line “You are the prettiest girl I ever saw,“ simply becomes “You are the prettiest boy I ever saw.“ Likewise, the line “All women become like their mothers,” is changed to “All men become like their mothers,“ which, in this world where it is more likely to be gay than not, becomes an interesting observation.
Of course the show could not be successful on this concept alone, and an exuberant cast makes sure to leave the audience no doubts. Down to the butlers (played by Eric DeLoretta), everyone seems to have a real blast onstage, and it shows in their performances. Phillip Orazio makes a winning and giddy Algernon, so pleased with his own mischief that he frequently bursts into uncontrollable giggles. His portrayal is so convincing, it is hard to believe that Algernon was ever played as heterosexual. Mason McCulley is spot on as a suitably effeminate Gwendolen, hitting all the comedic notes expertly. Grant Jordan as Cecily is a great foil to McCulley, whose charm and clear blue eyes carry his disarming honesty believably. It is hard to recall a version of “Earnest” that was quite this much fun.
For Oscar Wilde, the story did not end so happy. The plot of “Earnest“ revolves around the ability of gentlemen to live double-lives, that of upstanding citizens while making salacious expeditions in secret. Immediately after the play opened in 1895, Wilde’s own exploits became public when he was prosecuted for “sodomy and gross indecency” with another man. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor which, having been used to an upper-class life, took a particular toll on his health. Three years after his release he died, destitute, at age 46.
If Wilde could have known then that someday audiences would be cheering for two men unashamedly in love on stage, it would have likely given him some hope. Then again, after watching this production, it is easy to believe this really was the play Wilde had written in the first place.
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is playing at The Let Live Theatre At The Actors Company (916 N. Formosa Ave, Los Angeles) through June 22. Tickets are $10 For more information visit www.hff14.org/projects/1829