Sunday, March 20, 2011


Back from a staging of the Brian Bedford Importance of Being Earnest, something struck me which perhaps all actors understand but I don't.  Specifically: people are always doing Shakespeare in some kind of off-the-wall  period dress: Civil War, Nazis, that sort of thing.   They do it with opera some too, particularly Handel and Wagner (think 22d Century).  But Oscar Wilde--people almost always fall over themselves to be as faithful to the author's own period--1890s London--as it is possible to be.  I don't want to sound prissy here: some attempts at period work fine, especially if you can use the period setting to wring something special out of the text.  Must be that the Victorian background of Wilde is just so densely textured that any attempt at displacement is more of a loss than again.

This was the performance of which Bedford is the director, but also the star: he plays the indomitable dowager Lady Bracknell.   Apparently this bit of cross-gendered casting has been done before, but as the critics have observed, Bedford earns full credit for playing it straight--no Dame Edna nods and winks.  People remark on his "comic timing," but it's more than just timing: Bedford knows exactly how to work an audience--how to make them laugh when he wants them to laugh, to shut up when he wants them to shut up.  He does play the maleness card in one aspect--his resonant base/baritone, which he can manipulate like a cello. 

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