Leonard Diamond’s “Earnest or What’s in a Name,” now playing at TheatreWorks, New Milford, has a lot going for it — mostly, Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” on which Diamond’s musical version is based. However, Diamond’s opening scene, not Wilde’s, can be confusing if audience members don’t recognize that Oscar Wilde wrote “The Importance of Being of Earnest,” and that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote “Patience,” which is the piece that David Anctil as Wilde is playing on the piano when Sir Arthur Sullivan arrives.
This scene focuses on Sullivan, portrayed by Frank Arcaro, approaching Oscar Wilde as a potential collaborator due to the split that occurred between Gilbert and Sullivan. Diamond’s “what if” scenario is a good idea, but reading the playbill for background information will help those who aren’t familiar Wilde or Gilbert and Sullivan.
Once the play moves into what Oscar Wilde actually wrote, the play works well. Diamond is credited with writing the book, music, and lyrics of “Earnest or What’s in a Name.” Most of the book is verbatim Wilde; most of the lyrics are verbatim Wilde. That leaves the short opening and closing scenes as Diamond’s. The music is also Diamond’s and though it is often reminiscent of the Gilbert and Sullivan style, it is not nearly as distinct nor as memorable.
What works like a charm for this production is Laura Gilbert’s direction. She allows the Wilde piece to come through with clarity and humor. Some of the actors also shine. Certainly Carey Van Hollen as Gwendolen, Beth Bonnabeau as Miss Prism, and Fred Rueck as Reverend Chasuble have the strong voices and deliver outstanding performances. Ian Maitland plays Jack Worthing, Charles Roth takes on the role of Algernon, and Becca Myhill plays Cecily. Jack Harding and John Bolster play butlers.
Glenn R. Couture is a fine director/actor at TheatreWorks. However, his performance as Lady Bracknell in drag is somewhat disappointing. The character does not come across as comically domineering and hysterically ironic as Wilde’s Lady Bracknell. Couture’s set design, on the other hand, received thunderous applause, especially when the set rotated to reveal a dramatically different setting.
Some of Susan Becker Aziz’s costumes were spot on, while Richard Pettibone’s and Scott Wyshnski’s lighting design was excellent. Beth Bonnabeau was the musical director. Overall, the production is entertaining. It plays through Aug. 3. Box office: 860-350-6863 or theatreworks.us.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]