Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

21 February 2004

Matinee Idols Named Monty

Today was not a day for yours truly to be mingling with folk, although I did have a pleasant conversation today with and was very helpful around 11pm.  But overall... my boss irritated me, my aunt called to explain why she didn't come see my show (could it be because she isn't interested in my work as an artist?  Of course.  Did she say that?  Um... no.), and then I had dinner with my family which was a disaster, and dinner with my family hasn't been a disaster in a long time, so it was a bit of a surprise.  Funnily enough, the worst part of the evening was not the part where my little brother criticized my fashion choices, but the part where my father actually got up in the middle of a conversation, donned his jacket and began to leave the restaurant to the shock of everyone at the table.  It was fucking bizarre.  I just wanted to be somewhere else.  I dare not bring up gay marriage at a dinner table, or I might have to actually get pissed off at them.  As it was, I was simply bewildered by my father's behavior and not fully upset.  Grrr.


*


I attended Cal Poly's production of The Importance of Being Earnest after that.  There is much to say about the production, so I shall just get right into it, I suppose.  Now, when I saw it on Wednesday, the show was in complete disarray.  To friends, I referred to it as a disaster.  Friday was a different story, thankfully.  Act One, unfortunately, is still a disaster, and after sitting through it, I was feeling a bit strange about coming to the show at all.  "Perhaps," I thought to myself, "I should have spent my $8.00 on a churro at disneyland instead of coming here..."  But I decided to stay.  I also decided to move forward about ten rows.  Both were good decisions.  Act Two picked up considerably and even gave me a few chuckles.  There is simply no getting around the brilliance of "You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I distinctly asked for bread and butter, you have given me cake!"  Fucking ingenious, that Wilde.  There is also no substitute for being able to hear the lines.  Brittney Kalmbach (Gwendolyn) was markedly better in Act Two, as well, and that lovely moment when the girls realize they have been duped and become friends again is just a transcendent moment of the theatre.  It was well-played here.  And then Act Three was hilarious.  Seriously.  Samantha Dykstra, who seemed a little unsure of her footing in Act One (or was it because I couldn't hear her) came back with full force and had us rolling in the aisles.  Her timing, her facial contortions, her delivery, was for the most part hysterical. 


The costumes are at once stunning, gorgeous, brilliant, lavish, outrageous, and strangely still recall the period.  They are in a word "decadent," which, I assume was the main force behind the production design.


The set is a comic bit in itself, and I wanted to applaud after the first set change went well.  The way the set transforms to accomodate all three acts is an achievement in and of itself.  Do not blink in Act One and miss the painting of a rabbit covered in butter and syrup atop a stack of pancakes.  Hysteria.  I loved it.


Here are my beefs with the show... the men.  I just don't understand them.  Perhaps it would have been better had the roles been reversed: if Mr. Baldeon had played Jack and Mr. Abarca had played Algernon.  As it is now, Baldeon tries and tries to be as cool as the designers and director wants him to be, but it just comes across as effort.  He never actually succeeds at decadence or vacuousness or whatever he was trying to achieve.  He simply succeeds in looking like he is trying very hard to be cool (a quality I personally see in the character of Jack).  Abarca preens and bows and gestures and (sorry) mugs his way through the show as Jack.  There are never any stakes for him: ever.  I love the boy, but what was he doing??  I hate to even mention Mr. Weaver, so much did I dislike his performance in the show.  He seems to be rebelling against the character the entire length of his time onstage, as if he really resents being cast as the doddering old minister and refuses to play the part with any believable weakness.


Dialect... (Am I nitpicking now?) For the most part it's fine... all of the women are completely believable with theirs, but again, Mr. Weaver doesn't seem to be the least bit British.  He's doing a dialect, but I'm still not sure when or where it is from.  Mr. Abarca's dialect is firmly rooted in the lower classes of London society, and so seems quite out of place.  The dialect I liked best was probably Ms. Pérez'.  (In general, I thought she was quite good, as well.)  There were several glaring errors in dialect across the board, though, and these should and could have been fixed.


There also seemed to be a lot of sight gags in the show.  Now, generally I dislike these... they always seem to point to someone, and to take me out of the action of the show itself.  What I mean is, when I see one, I always think about the director instead of thinking about the story or reacting emotionally to the material.  These included for me the (continual) running on of the servant in Act Two, the shirtlessness of Algernon in Act One, the pillow/kneel sequence in Act One, and almost every single entrance and exit in Act Two (Algernon's unzipped fly, Chausible's stepping in something, Jack's entrance with unsuccessful exit, ad nauseum).  For me (and I may be in the minority on this one) they do not make me laugh, and pull me out of the action.  One of them, though was inspired and worked well... twice.  I lay the success of the gag with the actor.  I refer to the knife in Cecily's bustier.  Later the payoff is wonderful when Gwendolyn insults her and Cecily reaches for her chest.  We know that knife is coming out.  Damn funny.


I should include here the pinning of the green carnation on Algernon's lapel... come on.  I guess that was the concept, that Algernon was the Wilde persona in the play, but once again I have to disagree.  If you look closely, you won't find much difference between the characters onstage.  To restrict the Wildean ideals and humor to Algernon is to rob the other characters of their own Wildean tendencies.  Every character onstage is Wilde, not just Algernon.  Especially the women.  Character is not king in Wilde comedies.  Wit rules the business of the day, and characters are judged by what they do, not who they are.


Anyway, I warmed to the show and to the concept.  I thought all of the women were good.  And I did laugh a good deal in Act Three, though I do think Acts One and Two are funny as well... just not in this production.