Cross-dressed to impress: Bill Molesky
as Lady Bracknell (above) comes between the lovers played by Robb Sharpe
and Amy Blumer (below) in Simply New’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
If this were a movie, Heater would be the dominant
auteur. After making all the costumes and selecting the cast, he began
rehearsals only to learn that he would also have to fill in as
Algernon, who with fellow dandy Jack Worthing (Robb Sharpe), dominates
the first act and much of the action. He also serves as dialect coach,
making sure the cast prefers upper-class pronunciation of “gulls” for
As a director, however, he takes a distinctly American
hand to this pinnacle of British high comedy. Instead of stiff upper
lips we get rather rubbery ones. Mugging and leering in some scenes
feels more like Neil Simon than St. Oscar. In the third act we are led
to believe that Algernon and Jack have taken to fisticuffs, mostly off
stage, but they return with eyes blackened and clothes torn. How
None of these excesses disfigures Molesky’s Lady
Bracknell, which will be one of the most talked about performances of
the year, regardless of how it is remembered next year at the Syracuse New Times
Syracuse Area Live Theater awards ceremony. Cross-dressing Lady Bs have
a long tradition, one of the most hilarious ever being the late
6-foot-2 William Hutt at the Stratford Festival almost 30 years ago.
The most startling aspect of Molesky’s entrance is that despite the
scarlet lipstick, red wig and Dolly Partonesque frontage, his Lady
Bracknell is by no means a clown. His/her dark brow and dyspeptic mien
forbid giggling. Secure in low-heeled sensible shoes, Molesky’s Lady
Bracknell treads slowly, as if carrying a heavy burden of deep regret
and, apparently, disappointment at what the modern world has come to.
Such a forbidding exterior is a risky way to get a laugh but, boy, does it work. Earnest
has some of the most bejeweled dialogue in all of English drama, but
working it is like rubbing your finger on fine crystal to get it to
ring: never too little, never too much. Take the immortal line, “To
lose one parent . . . may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both
looks like carelessness.” It’s not a gag. Contrasting emotions underlie
the words. Lady Bracknell has put decorum above all humanity. Her
authority as arbiter is on the line. And she, along with whole damn
system, is absurd. So, bingo! Molesky’s Lady Bracknell moves on
Unusual in this production, some of the strongest
performers are in smaller roles. Dan Tursi, a pal of Simply New
Theatre, hits all his notes perfectly as the tippling manservant Lane.
Disarmingly modest, Tursi supports but never upstages a principal.
Giving more sustained fun are Michael O’Neill as Reverend
Chasuble and Susie Blumer as Miss Prism. Usually the two are seen as
inverted clichés of British repression, but with them Heater’s advice
on putting emotions front and center has an advantage. Blumer’s Prism
seems to burst with unspoken secrets, not just one, and O’Neill’s
Chasuble gets more mileage from mock-lecherous lines (“ . . .hanging
from her lips”) than most of his countless predecessors.
The four principals—Heater’s Algernon, Sharpe’s Jack, Amy
Blumer’s Gwendolyn and Katey Hart’s Cecily—are all attractive young
people and plausible romancers. Tall, dark Amy Blumer (Susie’s
daughter) also appeared as Gwendolyn in the 2003 Baldwinsville Earnest
and has her own fix on Wildean understatement. Katey Hart, a West
Genesee High School sophomore, convinces us she’s a guileless damsel
from the country, as the role is written. Sharpe and Heater work hard
and make this a comedy in their own ways.
Gertie Swanson’s expressive set at Jazz Central,
well-lighted by Brian Hensley, implies Mayfair elegance in what is
really a former paint store. The uncredited sound designer should take
a bow for the Chopin interludes.
In these grim times of uncertainty, we could all use a laugh. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Simply New Theatre give them to us.