David Zippel Adapts Earnest, Setting Oscar Wilde Classic in Trump Tower and the Hamptons
By Kenneth Jones
Tony Award winner David Zippel, who wrote frisky lyrics for City of Angels, The Goodbye Girl and the regionally-seen Princesses, has adapted Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, the famed comedy of Victorian manners, as a modern comedy about New Yorkers obsessed with social position — and, of course, love.
Zippel's The Importance of Being Earnest (in New York) had a January table read for playwright Zippel, his agent and costume designer William Ivey Long. Another private industry reading is scheduled for spring, Zippel told Playbill.com.
Picture British bachelors Jack and Algernon as New Yorkers in a spacious apartment in Trump Tower on Central Park, and at a country place in East Hampton, Long Island. Picture Gwendolen and Cecily using Facebook and iPads. The famous reference to British trains and stations now refers to the Bellport stop on the Long Island Railroad's Montauk line. Cucumber sandwiches? No. This time, it's mini-crabcakes.
"It struck me while watching the recent Roundabout Theatre Company revival that, in its initial production, the play was a contemporary look at the society who came to see it," Zippel said. "Because its message and its humor have held up so well for well over a century, it also occurred to me that it would be fun and funny to set the play in present-day New York.
"Without changing much of Wilde's brilliant language and only adjusting the locations, the dress, the accents and a few proper names, I could re-introduce the play as a contemporary reflection of our society."
The result, he added, is an approximation of seeing Wilde's brilliant 1895 comedy "as its initial audiences did."
Zippel explained that Lady Bracknell becomes "Mrs. Birnbaum-Bracknell," a botoxed, socially ambitious East Side doyenne; "Algie" and "Wendy" are New York City fashionistas; "Jack" and "Cissy" are East Hampton preppies; Meriman the Butler becomes "Immaculada," a maid of Hispanic heritage; Ms. Prism, the governess, becomes a Jamaican nanny; and Canon Chasuble becomes "Rev. Diane Canon Chasuble, D.D.," a change "which brings a little same-sex flirtation to the play."
Zippel said, "It's a nine-character play, but I'd like to do it with eight actors and have the same actor who plays the Hispanic maid in New York City play the Irish maid, Bridget, in East Hampton."
Zippel shared the Best Score Tony Award with Cy Coleman for City of Angels, which won the Tony as Best Musical. He conceived and directed The Best Is Yet to Come, a revue of Coleman songs, seen Off-Broadway and regionally. He conceived and wrote lyrics for Princesses (a modern riff on "A Little Princess"), and co-wrote the book to Going Hollywood, a musical adaptation of Hart and Kaufman's Once in a Lifetime.
On Broadway, he penned lyrics for The Woman in White (Tony nomination) and The Goodbye Girl. He also wrote lyrics for Pamela's First Musical.
Zippel is repped by Joyce Ketay at Gersh.
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