The New York Classical Theatre was putting on a free production of The Importance of Being Earnest: Two Ways and peg, rtb, Peter, and I decided to go during the beginning of the run so that we could get a seat in the Mezzanine Theatre of A.R.T./New York Theatres. This is the company that does free panoramic productions of Shakespeare in parks throughout NYC during the summer. At the beginning it was announced that this was also going to be panoramic and we were not sure how they were going to pull that off. There were three sets of bleachers and between acts they would have us all move to the set of bleachers to the right of us – so we got to see the show from three different angles.
The show was also supposed be gender-bending and I was rolling my eyes at that because who is not doing a show where the men are dressed as women and the women are dressed as men. Turns out they were doing that alternate nights and we saw the “straight” version. Later, during dinner, we were discussing how it would be more entertaining to have everyone wear the “correct” clothing but speak the partner’s lines – so Cecily would say Algernon’s lines but would still be a woman. And Algernon would be the ingenue. And Cecily and Gwendolen could both pretend to be Ernest even though it is considered a man’s name. Actually, for all I know, that could be what they are doing since I did not see the other version.
They are going to do this again in the parks this summer, so we are going to be sure to catch the alternate version.
rtb and I recognized some actors from their summer productions. Everyone was excellent, although there were some times when someone temporarily went up on a line. But the pace was fast enough that it was barely noticeable. We could see director/artistic director Stephen Burdman taking notes during the show.
For the set, the stage, which is ground level, was covered with Astroturf. There was a blanket and picnic basket on the side. Later a table was brought out for tea in the garden. All the scenes were outdoors and we had to imagine being surrounded by English gardens in different homes.
Oscar Wilde’s play is very funny and speaks to today’s audience as well as it ever did. How often do you get to see a free production of an excellent play with characters portrayed by professional actors? This production runs until March 24th and seating is limited. If you get there at 6pm, you can pick up your free tickets, go get something to eat, and come back for the 7pm show.
The actors and the roles they played the night we saw them were Ademide Akintilo (Algernon), Kristen Calgaro (Gwendolen), Connie Castanzo (Cecily), Kate Goehring (Lady Bracknell), John Michalski (Merriman), Jed Peterson (Jack), Tina Stafford (Miss Prism), and Clay Storseth (Dr. Chasuble).
Maddie Peterson was the production designer, Driscoll Otto the lighting designer, Joan Melton the voice/speech coach, and Andrea Andresakis the movement coach. I thought design assistant/wardrobe supervisor Kelsey Buerger did an excellent job with the costumes. All the clothing flattered the actors and told you immediately what the character was like before they opened their mouth.
After the play we looked for a place to eat on Ninth Avenue and most of the restaurants were packed. But Ariana Afghan Kebob was almost empty, which should have been a red flag. Instead, we were treated to an excellent and inexpensive meal. The neighborhood people are missing out by not eating there.
By Carene Lydia Lopez