Dallas — What’s more fun than Martha Harms and Matt Lyle fencing romantic in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest? Arguably, it’s these two accomplished actors delivering the same pinging verbal flirting while half naked in a tiny plastic swimming pool in Wilde/Earnest, a hyper-bubbly adaptation of Wilde’s masterpiece, adapted and directed by Lee Trull at Kitchen Dog Theater.
The idea, I think, is to adapt the famous satire by comparing the idiocy of the cooler-than-thou hipster culture of urban twentysomethings to the Victorian-era satire about the inane hypocrisy arising when society insists well-bred men and women marry for money and position, rather than romantic love.
Compressed to 95 manic minutes, the adaptation bounces—literally, on three tiny trampolines—along from scene to scene, taking advantage of the circuitous double plot about two men with double identities who love two women who at first appear unattainable. Here, in addition to delivering a biting Wilde aphorism, the characters feel compelled to woo one another on roller skates or to the beat of their bare feet on a trampoline. Add that with original poppy songs by Jencey Keeton of local band French 75.
When the hipster-gone-zonkers conceit works, it’s fun to laugh about the sheer flexibility of a Wilde line. “More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read,” says one of the lovers who take on the name of Ernest simply because that’s the name the ladies love. Of course, these hipsters have opinions about all sorts of things, like the Black-Eyed Peas, based on everyone else’s thoughts about them.
Hey, play along or play alone. Right?
Still, sometimes the need to act zany-hip feels forced, and the actors’ dash for the little trampolines lined up against Rob Wilson’s relentlessly pink set design feels redundant. Stop being cute, already. But maybe that’s the point.
Max Hartman is both manly and love-struck as Jack, an orphan who’s inherited his adoptive father’s country manor. He’s a respectable guardian of young Cecily (a fluttering, romantically mischievous Martha Harms glued to her iPhone), her late father’s only child. Jack’s invented a bad-news younger brother named Ernest who’s always getting in trouble, so he can rush down to London, no doubt to do all those things himself. Turns out Jack’s fallen for Gwendolyn (a beauteous Jenny Ledel in Urban Outfitters funk), the ripe little sister of his rakish friend Algernon (a wimpy and resolutely untanned, but irresistible Matt Lyle) proud of his flair for lying.
Even hipsters get their comeuppance when they think they’re so deck they can marry anybody. Something like that.
Gwen’s mom shows up right when Jack and Gwen are joyously murmuring marriage talk. Mrs. Bracknell, in the person of a mannish Leah Spillman in a silver bob wig that reflects Aaron Johansen’s pink and blue lighting perfectly, is uninterested in cool when it comes to marriage—unless it’s attached to a family fortune. Spillman is more bossy than commanding, and so the scenes of confrontation with the desperate lovers lose some of their comic edge. The spinster nanny Miss Prism (leggy and shy Taylor Anne Ramsey) looks like she might go for the female rector, Mrs. Chausable (Spillman is specs), but lesbianism is only a tittering glance.
Just how important is it to be Earnest? That’s a question you’ll have to see the show in an attempt to find out. I wasn’t quite sure, but I laughed at the Intern (mousey, muted and malleable Samuel Cress) as he went about his stage business throughout.
» Read our interview with Lee Trull about Wilde/Earnest