The Importance of Being Earnest - at the Ahmanson

Robert Petkoff as Algernon Moncrieff and James A. Stephens as Lane

When it comes to entertainment I am an anglophile. My favorite television channel is BBC America. My favorite directors are British. My favorite actors are British. My favorite authors are British.

So, when I read that the Ahmanson was staging "The Importance of Being Earnest" I squealed with delight. I may have even done a happy dance. Then to add to my delight, the casting release came and I was as they say "Over The Moon".  This is the stuff that legends are made of. Or to be precise "Legends" were making the production.

Lynn Redgrave as Lady Bracknell

It was to be directed by Sir Peter Hall, a living legend in the theatre world. As Americans, some of us may not be as familiar with Sir Peter as the Brits are and if you are one of the unenlightened let me tell you a bit about him. He has been directing for over 50 years. He has helmed some of the most prestigious theatres in the world, including the Royal National Theatre. He has directed (working with world class stars and actors) at most of the other prestigious theatres, not only in the UK but worldwide. His largest and most important contribution to the world of theatre is his creation of The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford on Avon - the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare - now, I know you've heard of him. Cool, huh?, and just think, he is directing something for us here in the City of Angels.

Miriam Margolyes as Miss Prism

The second excitement came when I read the name Lynn Redgrave as Lady Bracknell. Lynn Redgrave the beautiful redhead is another legend, and comes from a legendary family of prestigious actors. What could be better than this, a legend, playing a legendary part that most actresses would love to sink their teeth into.  Wow, was I psyched for this production.

Opening night arrived and as I was sitting in the theatre among, may I add, a house full of stars who had turned out for this production. (I guess I'm not the only anglophile around.) I closed my eyes and drank in the buzz of happy excited theatre patrons. I asked my companion to close his eyes and listen and he said "I can smell the greasepaint. You know the roar of the crowd, the smell of the greasepaint." I laughed and the curtain rose. The audience broke out in applause as the set to Algernon Moncrieff's (Robert Petkoff) salon was exposed. It was a beautiful set.  In greys and deep shades of purple, very rich and expensive looking. The butler (James A. Stephens ) entered and again applause. (This was one happy audience.) Then the game was afoot.

Lynn Redgrave, James Waterston and Bianca Amato

The story of  "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a much loved classic written by Oscar Wilde and known as one of his wittiest and mannered plays. It has been a staple of professional, amateur and school performances all over the world. "Earnest" is full of mistaken identities, social mores, rapier wit, charm, love and lovers, and idealism.

This production was beautiful. The sets and costumes were gorgeous. Hair and makeup were perfect. And the directing and acting were top notch. I really couldn't find fault with anything. I laughed and was carried into the action on stage. So, why at the end of the show, did I feel a vague dissatisfaction? I don't know. There were actors who I fell in love with; my favorite was Miriam Margolyes, who played Miss Prism. She was so awkwardly delicate with her heaving bosom and her lovesick eyes. She inhabited the character and played her perfectly. Terence Rigby who played Reverend Chasuble across from Ms. Margolyes was also wonderful so instinctively connected with Margolyes that it was a delight watching their give and take, courtship dance.

Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew and Robert Petkoff as Algernon Moncrieff

Then there was Robert Petkoff who seemed born to play this high mannered comedy. He was fluent in his timing and style. Very funny and reminded my companion and I of a mixture young Orson Wells and Kenneth Bragnah.  James Waterston as Jack Worthington and Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew were both highly competent and held their own against the stronger actors.  Bianca Amato as Gwendolyn Fairfax started out strong and in the second act flowered into a charming and refined aristocrat. Lynn Redgrave as Lady Bracknell was elegant, refined, and in complete control of the stage.  The directing was tight, accessible and well thought out.

Importance of Being Earnest Cast

The play was well received, the audience laughed and were swept along on the journey. I enjoyed it, but left with that dissatisfied feeling. I wanted more, more stylized characterizations, sharper wit and refinement. I don't know if it was the director toning down Ms. Redgrave so she wasn't stealing the show, or trying to keep it in that "stiff upper lip" hiding your feelings, low key, British style. Or if my memory and desire are larger than life and border on the melodramatic. But, whatever that discontent is - I desired more from the play than I received. To be fair though what I did receive was terrific, it just wasn't what legends were made of.

Robert Petkoff, Lynn Redgrave and Charlotte Parry

Regular Performances (beginning Jan. 26):
Tues. through Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. matinees at 2 p.m. No performances on Mondays.
Exceptions:
No eve. performances on Sun., Feb. 5,  Sun., Feb. 19, and Sun., Mar. 5. Added Thurs. 2 p.m. mat. performances on Thurs., Feb. 2, Thurs.,
Feb. 16, and Thurs. Mar. 2.

TICKET INFO: Ticket Prices:
Previews - $15-$75
Regular Performances - $20-$75
Tickets available at the Center Theatre Group box office or by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 628-2772 or on-line at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

Importance of Being Earnest Cast

Hot Tix: A convenient new discount ticket program which offers a $20 ticket to the general public that can be purchased in advance either by phone or in person at the CTG central box office. For further information, please call (213) 628-2772 or on-line at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. or (213) 972-7231.

Deaf community: information & charge, TDD (213) 680-4017.

LOCATION:  Center Theatre Group/ Ahmanson Theatre
at the Music Center / 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A.       

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