The innovative Aquila, a hybrid of American, British and international artists, began previews for the Oscar Wilde classic June 21 in Manhattan. Alex Webb joins the tradition of male actors stepping into the bustle of imperious Lady Bracknell.
The updated staging (but unaltered text) helmed by Robert Richmond and Peter Meineck was a hit for the company in a national tour, and Aquila artistic director Meineck thought it might be fun for summer in the city. Performances continue to Aug. 3.
The production is set in 2003, and the men of the comedy will be in their late 30s rather than the usual 20s.
"We wanted to stress that Jack and Algy are older in years," Meineck told Playbill On-Line. "These are guys who have avoided getting married. What music would they be listening to? Cruel to Be Kind, Joe Jackson, Peter Gabriel..." Meineck and Co. are touting the show as "Oscar Wilde meets 'Absolutely Fabulous,'" complete with the troupe's signature physical flourishes. (Few who saw Aquila's Much Ado About Nothing will forget the movement-theatre prologue in which the war from which the men return was imagined as a collection of 1960s James Bond-worthy hand-to-hand battles.)
As for the crossdressing, actors ranging from American TV star Larry Linville to Canadian stage icon William Hutt have played Bracknell, who interviews suitors for the young Gwendolyn in the famous 1895 comedy of manners.
The Importance of Being Earnest is the first professional staging in a new 200-seat flexible black box space at the Baruch Performing Arts Center at Lexington and 25th Street. The set design by Meineck and Richmond is a cricket field.
Actor Webb appeared in Aquila's Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing, as well as Arena Stage's Of Mice and Men and this spring's An American Daughter, in Washington, DC.
The company is made up of Aquila veterans including Richard Willis as Jack, Guy Oliver-Watts as Algernon, Cameron Blair as Gwendolyn, Lindsay Rae-Taylor as Cecily, Andrew Schwartz as Lane and Dr. Chausable, Renata Friedman as Miss Prism and Ryan Conarro as Merriman.
In the coming season, Aquila will tour The Man Who Would Be King and Othello, bringing the latter to New York City in 2004, the same year the company mounts The Agamemnon starring Olympia Dukakis as Clytemnestra.
Earnest tickets are $45. For information, call (212) 239-6200 or visit aquilatheatre.com.
Baruch Performing Arts Center is at 150 E. 25th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. Performances play Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 5 PM and 9 PM and Sundays at 2 PM and 7 PM. There will be no performance on Friday, July 4 with an added Wednesday matinee at 2 PM on July 2.