I’d never seen any of Oscar Wilde’s work before I went to see The Importance of Being Earnest on Friday, so I didn’t know what to expect. I expected something similar to Wodehouse’s work: In print it has just never produced much amusement for me, but I find the series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry absolutely hilarious. Something about their acting brings the writing to life. The same happened when I went to see this play, performed by the Rude Mechanicals. First of all, their seven-women-and-one-drag-queen cast was a refreshing take on traditional gender roles. I especially liked one of the first scenes, in which Algernon entered dressed in women’s clothing and then proceeded to change into men’s attire. It’s amazing that such a small thing could be so thought-provoking. I wish there had been more bits like that, because it was hard for me to distinguish what aspects of the play took on a different meaning when the cast was deliberately female than if it had just happened to be women playing men’s roles, which isn’t uncommon.
In terms of the performance itself, the cast did a beautiful job. Their facial expressions, for one, were priceless, as was their timing. Lane’s slight pause before addressing Algernon as “sir,” for example, added humor and some thought on gender roles. Small actions like Merriman and Cecily’s fangirling (as I believe it’s called) over “Ernest’s” arrival added a modern element to the play. Algernon and Jack’s way of stuffing food into their mouths so quickly that they could barely speak was beautifully done. The characters’ absolute bewilderment at the situations they all got themselves into was perfect, and reminded me of Hugh Laurie in the Jeeves and Wooster series. These little things added vivacity to the production, and brightened up dialogue that in print might have come across as dry. Overall, it was a marvelous production, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the work of Oscar Wilde.