The importance of Being Earnest

To air Wednesday, April 30 and/or Thursday, May 8, 2008.

Manhattan’s Pearl Theatre has come up with a fine production of Oscar Wilde’s classic The Importance of Being Earnest.  Were Wilde to have lived in current times rather than Victorian England of the late nineteenth century, he would have taken his place alongside Nathan Lane, Harvey Fierstein and other acceptably out of the closet Broadway creatives.  As it was, though, he suffered through society’s norm of the time:  the persecution of gay men.  Although his work was highly successful and feted by audiences of his plays and writings, including the classic The Picture of Dorian Gray, moralistic society came down hard on him. He served two years at hard labor in prison which broke his health.  Three years after his release, at age 46 and penniless, Wilde was dead of meningitis.

The cast is quite good, generally, with Broadway bound Sean McNall delivering his usual strong performance.  He starred successfully as Hamlet earlier in the Pearl’s season and delivered his own low-key interpretation of the troubled prince of Denmark.  In this play, McNall again shows his classical training.  The lines are delivered large and unhurried.  He is an actor in command of his words, making them his own as if he had written them himself.  Some actors recite their lines.  The better ones recreate them each time they are spoken.  McNall is clearly from this latter category.

The play is good, the directing unobtrusive and the combination feel of professional and community theatre adds a sense of hospitality which Broadway shoots for, but is somehow too big to realize very often.

Artistic Director Shepherd Sobel’s attitude toward theatre is responsible for this.  He is in it to bring the classics to the public in a quality, affordable way and, usually, he succeeds.  You can get on their mailing list by calling (212) 598-9802.