Jason Tseng

Theatre Review: "Thoroughly Stupid Things (or the Continuous Importance of Being Earnest)"

Filed By Jason Tseng | August 24, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: New York City, Oscar Wilde, review, The Importance of Being Earnest, theatre, Thoroughly Stupid Things

The moment I saw the title to Montserrat Mendez's play, tstsoloa-thumb-300x214.gifThoroughly Stupid Things (or the Continuous Importance of being Earnest), I immediately knew I had to see it. A sequel to Oscar Wilde's infamous comedy of errors, which captures the best essence of British Victorian theatre, Montserrat creates a loving homage to Wilde, one of the great queer writers of the 19th century, yet updates the work- rife with sharp wit, whirling wordplay, and a refreshing air of self-awareness.

tstsoloc-thumb-300x199.gifThe play picks up where the former left off. We find Gwendolen (Emma Gordon) and Cecily (Amy Forney) are enjoying married life to husbands Jack Worthing (Darrel Glasgow) and Algernon Montcreif (Stephen Laferriere). Their lives are comprised mostly of drinking tea, engaging in strenuous acts of thinking, and discussing the trivialities of their lives. When it is discovered that Jack and Algernon have been spending their time at members only club, Gwendolyn and Cecily suspect their husbands of having an affair with the sultry, smoky-voiced siren, Bibi LaFlam (James Edward Becton), who performs at the club. The women decide, in great Shakespearian fashion, to disguise themselves as men, infiltrate the club, and discover the truth as to their husbands' fidelity. Hilarity ensues.

The major players are well complimented, if not outshone by a marvelous supporting cast, which includes Jack's flamboyant butler, Merriman (H. Dean Jones), Ms. Prism (Stephanie Lovell), Lady Bracknell (Justin McKenna), and Montserrat's lone invention to the cast of characters, Inspector Raynier (Synge Maher). Stand out performances include Lovell's Ms. Prism, whose thoughtful and well-timed performance perfectly captures the scatterbrained yet lovable governess. Unfortunately, I must say that McKenna's Bracknell and Becton's LaFlam, the two prime drag players (both characters filled me with the most anticipation) failed to impress with performances of a merely satisfactory nature.

Montserrat demonstrates that he is not only capable of continuing Wilde's tradition of turn-on-a-dime witticisms and biting social critique, he excels at it. His command of language truly shines brightest during the scenes within the men's club, where all members are required to speak in rhyme (a pleasant nod to the use of alexendrine verse in 17th century French drama). Additionally, the playwright is pleasantly self-aware and never takes his play too seriously. One is constantly keenly aware of the playwright's hand and choices with his clever asides and "wink winks" conveyed through the actors to the audience.

At one point, Rev. Chausable, played expertly by Jones, is on stage when Jack calls for his butler, Merriman (also played by Jones). All the actors stumble and attempt to give weak excuses as to cover up the intensely clear and amusing fact that the actor has been double cast. Ms. Prism, in a final act of frustration exclaims "Well, for one, he's caught in a double cast!" Prism then stammers as she explains that Merriman is an avid knitter, and hates being disturbed whilst completing the technically challenging knitting maneuver of a double cast, thus "saving" the suspension of disbelief. Realism is most assuredly not on the menu tonight.

tstsoloi-thumb-300x230.gifNot only was the production very funny, it also was filled with complex theatrical choices which added to the depth of the performance. The choice to cross-cast several of the characters (Bracknell, LaFlam, and Raynier) offers an interesting layer of meaning, not-so-subtly making reference to homoerotic and queer subtext of Wilde's original text. The notion of fixed gender in the playing space becomes troubled, and the audience is forced to assess gender simply as another role which the actors, cross-cast or not, affect and perform.

In conclusion, Thoroughly Stupid Things is a funny, well-rehearsed, and masterfully constructed play. I'm sure familiarity with Wilde's original play further increases the enjoyability, but is far from a prerequisite. I whole-heartedly encourage anyone in town to see this Fringe festival performance. It's final performance is on Saturday, August 23rd at 7:00 at the Bleecker Street Theatre. Check out fringenyc.com for performance dates, times, and locations.

Rating (out of 5): ****


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Jason, it sounds like the play was really fun. Thanks for the review!

Great review! I loved the Importance of being Ernest!