By Coco Mault
“I just am that woman,” said Brian Bedford, who directed The Roundabout Theater’s current Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest and stars as Lady Bracknell. “When I get into the frock and the makeup and the wig, I just am Lady Bracknell.”
Having men play women’s roles is not a revolutionary idea, though historically it wasn’t for entertainment’s sake, but a result of ancient taboos about women performers. No, having Bedford play a society matriarch is a novelty in this day and age — and he is an amazing Lady Bracknell that Oscar Wilde himself would surely be proud of – but what’s revolutionary in this production is that it is filmed live (In HD) at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater in New York City and screened in theaters around the world, including at the Guthrie Theater.
The show stars Guthrie alum and 2004 University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program graduate Santino Fontana as Algernon Moncrieff and David Furr as John Worthing. And if they look familiar, the two have gone viral, as they say in this age of the Internet. In April of this year, Playbill.com featured a five-part series of short videos starring Fontana and Worthing.
The videos feature the two actors in full costume — high collars, suit jackets, and finely coiffed hair — and fully in character. The twist? They recite lines in high-society English accents from the infamously low-society reality series The Jersey Shore (you know, the show starring the equally impressively coiffed Snooki). It’s sort of an ingenious parallel, combining these two shows, as they both show glimpses into extreme lifestyles.
And these are not new lifestyles — there has always been low society and high society — and Fontana says it best when describing Wilde’s work: “It… shines a light on humanity that has not changed.”
The last Broadway production of Oscar Wilde’s Earnest was 33 years ago, so the global sharing of this Broadway remount is an exciting example of what the future of theater could look like. It’s not unpleasant watching a stage show on the big screen — it may be a little odd to clap after acts or particularly good scenes — but there is a sense of camaraderie among show-goers even if the actors themselves don’t know we’re there.
Because of the camera work, even people in the cheap seats can get great close-up views of the actors’ faces. And there is even entertainment before the show and during intermission. For Earnest, there was a backstage tour hosted by Guthrie veteran David Hyde Pierce, in addition to an intermission chat with Alfred Molina and Oscar Wilde expert Michael Hackett. However, there may be a little bit of a letdown for those people who enjoy capping off a wonderful show by seeing the stars exit at the stage door.
See performances of The Importance of Being Earnest through June 26, 2011. Visit www.earnesthd.com for a full list of participating theaters, screening dates and ticket prices.