HITW: The Importance of Being Theatrical
On March 25, New Britain’s cultural and artistic community enjoyed one of the city’s finest opening nights in recent memory when Hole-in-the-Wall Theater presented Oscar Wilde’s final stage play “The Importance of Being Earnest” to a nearly sold out house. Though frigid March winds howled outside, the lovely, well-lit, pastel-colored costumes and garden-party sets evoked upcoming spring, and the festive, informal reception afterwards sent everyone off into the night with a great feeling of satisfaction.
Oscar Wilde was a tortured and tormented homosexual during the height of the Victorian era, and much of that was reflected in some of his more decadent works, notably “Salome”. None of that is evident in this masterpiece, which is, basically, just a good old-fashioned satire about two women who fall in love with the same gentleman named Ernest who doesn’t even exist!
As a general rule, modern American audiences of any age are not by nature Anglophiles. British humor, be it Shakespeare or Dickens, Victorian or contemporary, can be tedious to watch, comparable to Italian opera for those who aren’t classical music lovers. Male actors can often appear effeminate, the women stuffy and matronly, the dialogue difficult to follow, the whole experience rather outdated. Rest assured, nobody fell asleep during this performance. While “Earnest” doesn’t really get going until Lady Bracknell’s entrance midway into Act 1, Wilde’s clever and witty dialogue and, as comedies go, easy to follow plot kept this first-night audience awake, alert and enormously entertained. So did the professionalism and linguistic abilities of all of the cast members, none of whom hail from England.
For the record, John Avignone was a tall, modelesque Jack, Mitch Hess a gallant Algernon and Sandee Rollins a poised, glamorous Gwendolen. Wisely, Denise Nelson kept the ingenue character of Cecily from turning into a cloying soubrette. However, Doug Seelye was the one who ultimately received the most laughs as the manservant Merriman. A real scene-stealer, his every entrance elicited belly-aching roars from the audience. Perhaps it was the crazed, grotesque expression on his face or his popularity as a veteran of Hole-in-the-Wall productions for twenty years— only he knows for sure.
Wonderful as everyone was, the real tour-de-force of the evening was the bravura performance of Barbara Gallow as the domineering Lady Bracknell. Going against typecasting, she is not the statuesque, booming contralto normally seen in this role, but with her crisp-as-a-potato-chip diction, arched eyebrows and imposing walking stick, she blustered like an Amazon and left nothing to be desired.
“Earnest” will continue to appear on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. until April 23, and there will be two Sunday matinees April 3 and 17 at 2 p.m. For tickets, reservations and/or more information, please call either 860-229-3049 or 860-223-9665, or visit hitw.org. This one shouldn’t be missed…to quote the playbill: “a trivial comedy for serious people!”