Monday, May 15, 2006

"So long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses."

That's what Ellen Terry said after Oscar Wilde was arrested. [Correction: Terry, while supportive, never quite understood exactly what Wilde was accused of doing. The above comment was made by another actress.] It came to mind after seeing a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest yesterday. As one woman sitting behind me, flipping through the program, complained to the audience member seated next to her, "They spend so much time talking about the scandal that there's nothing about his writing!" Which, unfortunately, was true. I'm not saying that things have to be swept under a rug (or, better, into a closet). But to give over a play without telling us of the play itself- its history, what Shaw had to say, its influence? Without telling us that Wilde was a great writer, who wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, Salome? Instead, the program- I'm paraphrasing, but this is the gist- tells us that Wilde was born, went to college, wrote some articles, met Alfred Douglas in 1891, and that was the end of him.

He met Bosie in 1891, as the program states. His most famous works followed in the next few years. Nothing. But such is the state of Culture that it must be done in the streets, the horses- and Wilde himself- be damned.

Speaking of which, I found it ironic that one of the eulogists at A. M. Rosenthal's funeral described him as the man who "kept the Times straight." Now, this was an old dude, probably meaning the word as it's always been. But, as I said, ironic, considering, as I've mentioned here before, that under Rosenthal, they couldn't even use the word "gay." Now? Horse-frightening time!

Oh, the play was magnificent, by the way. It was the last performance of Peter Hall's production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater. (The theater is named for one Harvey Lichtenstein, but the first name is shorter and easier to pronounce than the last, I guess. There is a [Roy] Lichtenstein print inside, interestingly. And the building is...also interesting. By "interesting," I mean, "looks like it's about to fall down." As the guy sitting next to me said, they probably can't afford to fix it up just now, so try they pass off the boarded-up-for-decades ruins as "authentically Brooklyn" or some such.)

Whoa, I'm really getting distracted with my rants. The performance! Wonderful! Lynn Redgrave as Lady Bracknell. Every actress I've seen brings a little something different to the role, even while staying true to the original. I always pay special attention to how the "handbag" line is delivered. When I saw Patricia Routledge perform the role in London, it was an annoyed bellow, coming after Jack's endless revelations. (A news item in The Times about the Queen Mother's two daughters taking her to a performance for her birthday alerted me to it being on. I liked the way The Times offhandedly referred to how "even Aunt Augusta" sang "Happy Birthday" with the rest of the cast, as if we're all just supposed to know what that means and implies.)

Edith Evans (in a movie with another Redgrave) delivers the line with a shocked, but still upper-class nasal, cry. Judi Dench sort of sighs it, in resignation. Ms. Redgrave, yesterday, just said it, dismissively, her head almost turned, her mind already made up about Jack.

Anyway, kudos to the cast, crew, and BAM. An enjoyable three-borough Sunday, starting with a very good Kollel (as always) and ending with a bit of Wilde. What's not to like?

1 comment:

Liz said...

You know I have never seen horse-frightening ever? Like, not even in a movie or a um, a less than savory type of 'movie'? Must be an emormously odd thing