Though reviews have been less than exemplary, the Irish Repertory Theatre's Off-Broadway production of The Importance Of Being Earnest has extended to Dec. 22, thanks to strong ticket sales driven by the show's high profile cast.
Originally supposed to close Dec. 1, Earnest will maintain its current cast -- Eric Stoltz, Melissa Errico, Nancy Marchand, Tom Carson, John Fiedler, Daniel Gerroll, Schuyler Grant and Sloan Shelton -- to the end of the run. (The play reportedly must end Dec. 22 no matter what, because the next repertory production goes up at the end of January). The show has also drawn interest because Earnest is award-winning set designer Tony Walton's first stab at directing. He also designed the sets and costumes for the production, which has lighting by Kirk Bookman.
Melissa Errico may be the production's hottest draw, following her extraordinary notices for playing Venus in a City Center concert-staging of One Touch Of Venus. She was also in the Brroadway revival of My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain, and played Princess Kitty in the Circle In The Square musical flop, Anna Karenina. Nancy Marchand received a Tony nomination for her work in the Roundabout Theatre's 1993 revival of Black Comedy, White Liars. Eric Stoltz New York stage credits include the Atlantic Theatre's staging of Lee Blessing's Down The Road, and Broadway's Two Shakespearean Actors and Our Town.
Earnest tickets have already sold out for all of November ("tickets sales have been through the roof," press representative James L.L. Morrison told Playbill On-Line), making it one of the Repertory's biggest successes. Oscar Wilde's "trivial comedy for serious people," written in 1895, turned Victorian values upside down by charting the farcical complications of two young couples in love, an imperious Governess, and the mysterious contents of a certain handbag... Wilde's other plays include Lady Windermere's Fan and An Ideal Husband, currently enjoying a hit Broadway revival.
In his mixed Village Voice review, Michael Feingold praised Daniel Gerroll's as the fullest and most subtle performance of the evening, and found much to enjoy in the slyness of Nancy Marchand as Lady Bracknell (though he and other critics mentioned her flubbing of lines). Feingold also praised Melissa Errico's "delicate prettiness and immense musicality" as Gwendolyn, but found artificiality in Eric Stoltz's buoyancy as Jack. Frustrated by uneven supporting performances, Feingold noted that they "simply underscore New York's tragic lack of a real repertory theatre; the better [performances] reassert, maddeningly, that we could easily have one if we wanted it enough." For tickets ($30) and information on The Importance Of Being Earnest at Irish Repertory Theatre on West 22nd St., call (212) 727 2737.
-- By David Lefkowitz