The Vital Importance

May 31, 2009

Witty! is the prevailing word in my mind, coming back from Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 2009 Importance of Being Earnest. What, in Brian Bedford’s hands, isn’t witty? (Even his Lear was witty, which was part of the problem). But it’s perfectly right for this play, certainly; and, with a couple shaky parts (this was a preview, after all), the performances were all witty little gems, too. Mike Shara was especially good as Algernon, which was wonderful to see because I’ve always thought of Shara as the sort of boring romantic lead.

Ben Carlson, one of my favourites, was Ernest John, and just hearing that made me realize something about the play – Algernon gets most of the laughs, but Jack/Ernest is really the more fascinating character…the one who’s constructed this whole double life. It’s less expected (I’m assuming at this point, having seen at least 4 productions and myriad films), and more funny when Jack comes in mourning his brother Ernest than when Algernon comes in as Ernest. And other characters could have the same depth – Lady Bracknell’s rise, fear of social upheaval, and reaction to family tragedy; Prism and Chausable.

But they weren’t played that way, here, from Carlson on down. And I’m not sure it’s a fault of the production, just the way of the play. Certainly not as shallow as the society it depicts, but really just one or two layers removed. And this sparkling, witty production was perfectly content with that. But it didn’t make for my favourite Earnest.