Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell is an overly-protective father figure in the revamped All-Male Importance of Being Earnest, a gay take on the classic comedy by Wilde, opening Dec. 3 after beginning previews Nov. 4 at New York City's Duplex Cabaret Theatre.
The staging by Wild at Last Theatre Company (WALT Co.) and director adapter Hugh Hysell at the famous cabaret complex (at 61 Christopher St. at 7th Avenue) follows Hysell's staging in the 1998 New York International Fringe Festival on the Lower East Side.
Hysell sets the story in New York City's gay-populated Chelsea district, and in the tony Hamptons, on Long Island. The 1895 comedy of manners involved the efforts of a couple of London wags to woo women at a country house in the presence of prickly guardian Lady Bracknell.
Now, according to the announcement, it's about "a pack of rich, gay men who lie, cheat and assume false identities to marry the men they love."
But publicist Phil Bond told Playbill On-Line Nov. 4 that the script is "about 90 percent intact," with major changes involving the setting and pronouns. Bond said Hysell downloaded the script from the internet and attacked it from a gay New York point of view. Bond said Hysell cornered Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, at a New York reading and asked what Oscar might say about such a staging. Holland replied, "I think Oscar would be delighted."
WALT Co.'s mission is "to nurture hysterical plays that speak truths, provide a gay-positive working environment and produce works that examine the fabulous creative spirit in us all."
The All-Male Importance of Being Earnest is the gay troupe's premiere production.
Although Earnest's incredulous malaprop-prone Lady Bracknell has been played (in gimmick casting) by male actors in drag (Ellis Rabb, among others), WALT Co.'s unique concept staging refigures the entire world of the play.
The company, mostly recast since the summer 1998 fringe fest staging, includes holdovers Adam Beckworth (as "Gerald," formerly "Gwendolyn") and Harris Dorman (as "Kurt," formerly "Cecily"). Also in the cast are Stephen Davies (Jack), Darrow Carson (Algernon), John Petrie (Bracknell), Joe Bailey (Mr. Prism), Daniel Haughey (Chausible), Ken Mason (Lane) and Stephen Charles Lincoln (Merriman). For reservations, call (212) 255-5438.
-- By Kenneth Jones