June 30, 2012 matinee reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest now playing at Williamstown Theatre Festival is a smashing success. Director David Hyde Pierce’s weaving the joys of Wilde’s one-liners with the accents of Damon Runyan’s mobsters in a delightful English setting (where in 1932 mob members have migrated to escape mob problems in the good old USA) works magnificently. And having the versatile and competent Tyne Daly play Lady Bracknell is icing on the cake. It is a role all the great 20th century English actresses have played to our enchantment.
Having given that glorious rave, one must admit that the first act was flat. The Wilde dialog was there but brought almost no laughs or response from the audience. The two male leads seemed underplayed and even the dominating entrance of Lady Bracknell and her daughter not enough. And then, after intermission, the curtain came up on the glories and praises that prompted the opening of this review.
The setting as in the script had changed to the country and the skies were blue and the roses blooming in the garden where Cecily (Helen Cespedes), spirited and delightful and very sure of herself, and Miss Prism (Mary Louise Burke), a zitsy family retainer, take the play immediately to its Wilde level where the pedantic clergyman Rev. Chasuble (Henery Stram) carries it along.
No sooner are he and Miss Prism gone, the stage is activated by the challenging arrival of Gwendolyn (Amy Spanger) to spar spiritedly with Cecily over who Earnest might love, only soon livened by Algernon (Louis Cancelmi) on a Bunbury trip, pretending to be John’s brother, to fall conveniently in love with Cecily. And of course suddenly levels are elevated further by the arrival of John Worthing, (Glenn Fitzgerald) dressed in deep mourning for a non-existent brother and, dynamic on his own turf, demanding Algernon leave.
Act 3 set inside the house at the country estate is even more dynamic and hectic. All the tangles of act 2 are resolved and the actors are all in splendid form. But the real glory of Act 3 is Tyne Daly. She dominates casually, it would seem, from her chair. But she has within her a heart of steel. She makes it look easy. That is her glory. It is nice to have her in the Berkshires.
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