Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New York, April 2011 - Day Eleven, "The Importance of Being Earnest" & "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide..."

The Importance of Being Earnest
Yes, you’ve probably seen it before, most likely at a local high school. “Earnest” has been a staple of youth theater for decades. The problem is, kids miss the satire present in the farce. Brian Bedford, the director and star of this wonderful new production, most assuredly does not. Beneath the veneer of the very correct manners on display, the blood is flowing freely. And not just from the characters – Wilde himself is skewering the aristocracy for their idleness. His references to “The Society for the Prevention of Discontent in the Upper Classes” and an article titled “The Influence of a Permanent Income on Thought” are just two of my favorite examples.

All the Wilde wit is on display, the costumes – especially the gowns created for Bedford’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell – are stunning, and the cast is terrific.

Even if you’ve seen “Earnest” many times, I doubt you’ve seen a production as top-notch as this one.

“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures”
Gus thinks he’s losing his mind. Though none of his children or his sister can sense the change – he’s the same card-carrying communist worker’s organizer homophobic curmudgeon he always was – Gus can sense things slipping away from him. Out of his grasp. Out of his control. He’s decided it’s Alzheimer’s.

So he’s decided to kill himself. For real this time. His first attempt came on the anniversary of his wife’s death. Which also happened to be their son Pill’s birthday. Now it’s a few days past that anniversary and Dad is laying out a new set of final plans. “You were going to give him a matched set?” his brother Vito asks.

Think of this show as a complement to “August: Osage County.” That story begins with a father missing (soon revealed to be suicide) and a family coming together to deal with each other. Here the family assembles to deal with the father. To decide – in a collective, consensual fashion, true to their communist roots – whether or not he ought to be allowed to exercise this option. And, like “August: Osage County,” it takes more than three and a half hours to determine what is to be done about dad – and it absolutely flies by.

“TIHGTOCASWAKTTS” is the latest by Tony Kushner, who won the Tony and the Pulitzer for “Angels in America,” and I have to admit it’s the sort of thing I tend to like: lots of talking, lots of ideas, wit, banter, intimate secrets revealed… With that caveat, I’ll tell you that I was enraptured by it.

Some of the performances got a little out of tune now and then, but they’re still in previews, so I’ll assume they can iron those out. And while they’re at it, I bet Tony will make some cuts to help the show move just a touch faster.

Even as it is, “TIHGTOCASWAKTTS” is deeply compelling. Every character has something at stake, each revelation has echoes and overtones. When Gus explains why he wants to check himself out, he tells the story of a friend of his, a typesetter, whom he watched slip away into dementia, his hands reflexively making the motions of his work even as he lay slowly dying in a hospital bed.

Typesetting. Communism. Homophobia. What do these three have in common? They are all dead concepts – save for a dwindling minority who still cling to them. In the case of homophobia, it’s a significant minority – at least in the U.S. While steady progress is made (the lifting of DADT, the President’s refusal to defend DOMA, marriage equality in five states and DC), the beast of hatred can, in its death throes, still claims victims: those bullied to death, partners forced apart by immigration laws, homes torched by arson. The list is long.

So is “TIHGTOCASWAKTTS.” But Kushner uses the time wisely to explore the consequences of hanging on to dead ideas. Highly recommended. (At least, if it sounds like your kind of thing, too.)

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