Two qualities relieve Edward Crow's punch-drunk production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" at the Trapier Theater.
The opening night audience - half of any performance - was dominantly in its early 20s or younger and glories, audiby and visibly, in the display of Oscar Wilde's glittering language. Raised on the poverty of TV and film banalities, this youthful house vibrated with sharp, almost surprised, awareness of verbal potentials. Attentive silences and appreciative chuckles abounded.
So, in this sense, the production serves an admirable, quickening purpose.
The second virtue is Eric Zwemer's Algernon, played with precise, sparkling control. This actor, introduced through the Trapier to Arena and Folger productions, has both presence and technique. He's able to snap out and technique. He's able to snap out words meaningfully and wittily with out gasping fro breath. He is able to stand still and do nothing. Ever since John Gielgud chose to act John Worthing instead of Algernon, actors have assumed that Worthing is the better part. Zwemer's incisiveness reminds us that Algernon, from start to finish, determines the action.
Not that Frank Muller's Worthing is poor. He makes much of it, especially with body language, but he does lack his partner's acute timing.
Unfortunately, Crow evidently has directed his players to face the house full front at the approach of especially - can't - miss lines.This works, indeed in part of musical show style, but it is far from Wilde's mannered world, where people assumed points would be made without such vicible efforts.
The result is that June Hansen's Lady Bracknell is disappointingly below that actress's standards. Playing Ayckbourne at Arena Stage, she showed high comic skill. Here she rolls her eyes and approaches almost every line with the aggresive elan of Pete Rose at bat.
Though accents range from Brooklyn to Beverly Hills English, Anne Stone's Gwendolyn and Caroline Cromelin's Cecily use Wilde's idea that she will become like her mother, Lady Bracknell, and Cromelin achieving nicely mannered guile.
Patricia Dickey, Ted Walch and Chris Gladstone, as Miss Prism, Canon Chasuble and Lane-Merriman, respectively, complete the cast. Before the light's go up on Crow's setting there's the sound of contemporary Verdi as if being played on a hurdy-gurdy of Venetian glass. It's a nice touch of mannered, restrained artifice touch of mannered, restrained artifice which Crow unfortunately neglected to further in his sock-it-to-'em staging.
Peformances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8, with Sunday matinees at 3.