Volume 79, Number 31 | January 6 - 12, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Theater

ERNEST IN LOVE
Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”
Music by Lee Pockriss
Book and lyrics by Anne Croswell
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Through January 31
At the Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Call 212-737-2737

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Katie Fabel (Cecily Cardew) and Ian Holcomb (Algernon)

Going wild on oft-told Wilde tale

Irish Rep’s earnest ‘new salting of frivolity’ pleases

By Jerry Tallmer

LADY BRACKNELL: Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?

JACK: I have lost both my parents.

LADY BRACKNELL: Both? To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, can be regarded as a misfortune; but to lose both — that seems like carelessness.

Surely as laughter-triggering a line as ever graced the English-speaking stage, unless you’re the Marquess of Queensberry — who on opening night at the St. James Theatre (February 14, 1895) — sought entry for the purpose of throwing vegetables at the playwright, but was denied admission. He then set about bringing down Oscar Wilde another way.

At the brilliant little Irish Repertory Theatre on West 22nd Street you won’t get John Gielgud as Jack Worthing or Maggie Smith imperially delivering the above chastisement or freezing the whole house into shuddering silence with the trumpeting of just one word, or name — [ITAL] Prism! — [UNITAL] but you will get somewhat more music than Wilde bargained for, along with a light topping of youthful frivolity.

The show is “Ernest in Love,” which is Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” given a certain new salting of frivolity via interworked music by Lee Pockriss set to lyrics (or vice versa) by Anne Croswell. The director, as so often at this venue, is multi-gifted and tireless Charlotte Moore, who with Ciaran O’Reilly launched the Irish Rep 23 years ago and are both energetically still at it, Erin be praised.

Her (artistic) partner was in fact the other day wrapping the Irish Rep’s hit production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones” that he, O’Reilly, had directed, and which was now about to move to the SoHo Playhouse on Vandam Street.

Quite a back-to-back contrast, the O’Neill and the Wilde, this playgoer remarked to Charlotte Moore.

“Isn’t it, though,” she cheerily replied.

The playgoer mentioned a piece he’d written a few years ago that spot-lit the naked racism of O’Neill’s drama about a big dumb tyrannical spook-fearing black man on some faraway tropic island.

“Well,” said the director of “Ernest in Love,” “this is anything but racist. It’s — pause —“ Anglophilicesque.”
Ah, Charlotte.

LADY BRACKNELL: Who was your father?

JACK WORTHING: I am afraid I really don’t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me…I was, well, I was found.

LADY BRACKNELL: Found!

JACK: The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable disposition, found me and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

LADY BRACKNELL: Where did the chartable gentleman with the first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

JACK: In a handbag.

LADY BRACKNELL: A handbag!

Long, long ago (1960) there was an Off-Broadway production of this very musical, “Ernest in Love” — yes, by that same Lee Pockriss and Anne Croswell — at a now long since defunct Gramercy Arts Playhouse on East 27th Street. So far as Charlotte Moore knows, and so far as the Internet can trace, there has been no production of it since in this city — until now.

Well, Ms. Moore, why now?

“Tony Walton had done [i.e.,, directed, very ably] ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ here [at Irish Rep] some years ago. ‘Ernest in Love’ has a charm that the original can’t quite accomplish. Another element of style. An enhancement of the original. To me, a romantic aspect that the original doesn’t have — and we’ve added some very romantic sounds with harp, cello, violin, and piano.”

Charlotte Moore has herself always been a very busy actress, on both stage (Broadway, among other places) and screen. She now let it drop that she had, as an actress, done Wilde’s “Importance of Being Earnest” no fewer than five times.

“Me, myself. Four times as Gwendolyn, once as Cecily” — those delicious young ladies who flash from mutual sugar-sweet politeness to wanting to scratch one another’s eyes out over the question of which of them is in fact engaged to marry Mr. Ernest. Worthing, the dissolute (imaginary) younger brother of (the real) Mr. Jack Worthing.

And then there is that other cheerful rogue, Cecily’s guardian, Mr. Algernon Moncrieff, who whenever he wants to go off on a hunt for, shall we say, fresh female companionship, disguises it as a farewell visit to the deathbed of his friend Bunbury.

ALGY [singing]:

SO IT’S OFF WITH CUSTOMARY SPATS AND ON WITH SUMMER HATS AND POLKA-DOT CRAVATS.

LANE [Algy’s man’s man, singing]:

IN YOUR WHITES, WITH CREASES NEATLY PRESSED, AND COAT OF BLUE,

YOU’RE BOUND TO CHARM THEM ON THE FARM,

FOR GRLS ADORE AN OXFORD CREST.

ALGY:

A BUNBURYING I WILL GO.

I’VE BUNBURY OATS TO SOW…

LANE:

AND I WILL TAKE THE LADY’S MAID

ON SOME SECLUDED COUNTRY GLADE.

BOTH:

AND WE WILL OWE EVERY KISS

TO MR. BUNBURY.

This is, as noted, Irish Rep’s hard-won 23rd year.

“I never know where I am in any season,” said a breathless Charlotte Moore.

Never?

“Never. Don’t ask me about rehearsal schedules. I just show up.”

And off she went, in obedience to Woody Allen’s precept, to do just that.

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