Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

In 2009 Brian Bedford directed Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and took on the role of Lady Bracknell. It was a superb production even though some of the actors could not do the crisp English accents for Wilde’s upper-crust characters.

Bedford has taken the play to Broadway and staged it at the American Airlines Theater for the Roundabout Theatre Company and the production has been such a hit that it was broadcast “live” and in high definition to movie theatres on June 2, 2011. The broadcast was in fact a pre-recorded video of a live performance.

The idea of beaming live or even pre-recorded theatrical performances is catching on and we all stand to gain a great deal if it becomes a systematic habit. The Metropolitan Opera started broadcasting operas from New York several years ago and the idea has spread to theatres.

This production of Earnest, whether in the theatre or on the large screen, is a superbly acted and directed staging of one of the best comedies ever written. Brian Bedford makes a great Lady Bracknell, the virago of an aristocrat who is a gorgon without being a myth. He delivers her lines impeccably and Wilde’s familiar wit is a pleasure to hear again.

The two gentlemen, Algernon (Santino Fontana) and Jack (David Furr) are marvelous as well. In this regard this production is one up on the Stratford staging because Fontana and Furr do convincing English accents and are quite hilarious.

The only cast member from the Stratford production aside from Bedford is Sara Topham as Gwendolyn. She is superb. Charlotte Parry is not quite as successful as Cecily. She has a slightly prognathous jaw, an oversized mouth and a disproportionate nose. Even the beautiful dress and makeup could not make her the most beautiful woman in the world. Her line delivery lacks the crispness and assurance that the role demands. Paxton Whitehead delivers a perfect Rev. Chasuble

The upside of close-ups is that you can see facial expressions perfectly and appreciate the set details. The down side of close-ups is you see too much, it seems. Topham’s makeup seemed overdone in close-ups whereas it probably looks just fine from a distance. There are issues like this that need to be addressed if we are to get the full benefit of seeing live theatre on a screen.

You do not get a programme of any kind. People who go to the theatre are used to getting a programme with cast and artistic credits. The broadcast did have a host in David Hyde Pierce and we did get some general information and behind the scenes glimpses that are not available to people in the theatre.

At the Scotiiabank Theatre in Toronto where I saw the broadcast, the volume was turned on so high I thought they were trying to wake the dead. A gentlemen went and complained several times before the volume was lowered to an acceptable level. Was no one listening or watching what was going on?

There are still some glitches to be worked out but the idea of broadcasting theatre, concerts, ballets and opera productions from around the world is here to stay and one can only applaud the development.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde was shown at the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, 259 Richmond Street West, Toronto ON and other theatres on June 2, 2011. For more information visit and Tel: (416) 368-5600

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