by Lynn on October 4, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Cory Doran
Set by Brandon Kleiman
Costumes by Ming Wong
Lighting by Mikael Kangas
Sound by Jeremy Hutton
Starring: Hannah Drew
Bailey Green
Michael Adam Hogan
Eliza Martin
Lee-Orr Orbach
Victor Pokinko
Andrei Preda
Daniel Staseff
Nicole Wilson

A stylish production of Wilde’s trivial comedy for serious people.

The Story. Well where to begin. Let’s start with those damned cucumber sandwiches so beloved of the formidable Lady Bracknell. Algernon Moncrieff is expecting his Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell to the rest of the world) for tea. She particularly loves cucumber sandwiches and Algernon (Algy) has had his butler, Lane, make some for her. Aunt Augusta will be accompanied by her daughter, Gwendolyn, Algy’s cousin.

Algy’s friend, Jack Worthing, appears unannounced. Jack is delighted Gwendolyn will be there as he is in love with her. To pass the time before their arrival Jack and Algy talk about their secret identities—each has one for town and one for the country. Algy gets peckish and eats the cucumber sandwiches.

Jack has a ward in the country named Cecily. Algy finds out about her by mistake and is intrigued and makes plans to meet her. When Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn appear Jack proposes to Gwendolyn in a private moment. When Lady Bracknell finds out about it she puts Jack through the third degree about his finances and his background. Since he has no parents and was found in a handbag, in Victoria Station, the Brighton Line, the proposal is off.
The rest of the play tangles the people, places, names and identities for good measure before it’s all sorted; the handbag is produced; the real identities are revealed and all is right with the world. Welcome to the wild, satiric, whacky world of Oscar Wilde.

The Production. Director Cory Doran and his creative team, especially Brandon Kleiman’s simple but stylish set, and Ming Wong’s elegant costumes have created that world of class, appearance and pretense. The scene changes are clever, witty and efficient. I am mighty impressed with how Doran moves from one scene to another.

The acting is sophisticated, confident and hilarious. As Algy, Victor Pokinko is effete and could be a stand in for Wilde himself—slim, tall, posing, self-absorbed and in his way, loveable. As Jack, Michael Adam Hogan is athletic, matter of fact, practical and exasperated with Algy. He’s a wonderful foil. As Gwendolyn, Hanna Drew is haughty, arrogant, and has the air of the pretentious rich. We can see that she is slowly growing into being like her mother, Lady Bracknell. As Cecily, Eliza Martin is sweet, self-assured and has that confidence of a young woman who is loved and pampered. She is a good foil for Gwendolyn. And of course there is Lady Bracknell. All the heavy lifting has been done before she arrives. We know that she is a formidable character; perhaps Algy is afraid of her and everyone is on their best behavior when she is expected. So we do all the surmising about her before she gets there. As Lady Bracknell, Nicole Wilson is formidable. She has that confidence of a woman who has what she wants. She married up and is proud of that. And she has that hauteur that is forceful to merely ordinary folks. Lovely performances.

I have a quibble. For all the arrogance of the upper classes, nothing is more arrogant or formidable than the butler class. They know the rules. They know how to maneuver around their employers and know how stupid they are and how to cover for them. They do not steal if they want to keep the job. Algy comments to Lane that he notices that several bottles of champagne were consumed at a recent evening. The suggestion in the production is that Lane has enjoyed some of the bubbly.

Cory Doran has directed Daniel Staseff as Lane to appear as if he might have been responsible for drinking the champagne. Lane appears in various scenes with glasses of drink, getting more and more drunk and lippy. I think this is a misstep in an otherwise thoughtful production. I don’t believe for a second that Lane is that irresponsible. He covers for Algy who has absent-mindedly eaten all the cucumber sandwiches. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Algy would have been involved in drinking several bottles of champagne with his friends and not been aware of it.

. As luck would have it I’m in Dublin as I write this. There is a statue of Oscar Wilde in Marion Square. He is lounging on a rock, wearing black pants, shiny leather shoes, a green smoking jacket and a carnation in his lapel. And he’s winking. That’s the brilliant, impish, irreverent, serious writer who wrote this towering play about class, social climbing, the silliness of the upper classes, the elegance of the epigram; and the nonsense in the importance of being earnest about a name.

Produced by Hart House Theatre

Opened: September 19, 2014
Closed: October 4, 2014
Cast: 9: 5 women, 4 men.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

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