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The Importance of Being Earnest and Macbeth3

Wicked Wilde
Cynthia Beckert and Lisa Wolpe
L.A. Women's Shakespeare is branching out. In its "Wicked Wilde Shakespeare Festival," the company gives us productions that are not cast with only women. More than that, with the inclusion of The Importance of Being Earnest, the company goes beyond Shakespeare. The result is a bit mixed. The Importance of Being Earnest is a delight, while the company's return to Macbeth3 is something of a step backward.

First, the good news. The hour-fifteen adaptation of Earnest is all sorts of fun. A charming version of Wilde's comedy of manners, the non-traditional casting hardly registers. Producer/Director/Adaptor (and company founder) Lisa Wolpe takes the stage as Jack Worthing. Despite Worthing's sometimes ridiculous behavior (the creation of a non-existent brother, for instance), Wolpe plays him as perfectly normal—the one sane individual who reacts with surprised confusion when the love of his life says she loves him only for his name, and her mother won't permit the marriage until the foundling Worthing goes out and obtains some parents.

Worthing's (intended) mother-in-law-to-be, Lady Bracknell, is played by John Achorn, who uses his physical presence to easily create the domineering woman. Achorn's Lady Bracknell is a real grumpy-puss, who oozes displeasure and classism as a matter of course. The rest of the cast is likewise effective. Cynthia Beckert takes on Algernon—Worthing's friend and sometime accomplice. Beckert isn't a particularly manly woman, and she uses her slightness of frame to create an Algernon who presents as a bit of a dandy, and who is somewhat bored with his aristocratic existence. But when Algernon falls for Worthing's ward, the lovely Cecily, he, too, has moments of genuine feeling. Laura Covelli gives us a good, overly excitable Cecily; and Katrinka Wolfson is deliciously flirtatious as Worthing's fiance, Gwendolyn—although she could use a bit more confident superiority when trading barbs with Cecily.

The opening night performance had all sorts of problems (lights that randomly created eclipses at Worthing's country home, and two missed entrances)—perhaps because the show was in a double-bill with the Scottish play?—but the cast treated them gamely and the audience was in such good spirits, the problems hardly mattered. Wolpe's direction keeps things moving quickly enough for the laughs to land, and the whole thing comes off as a frothy little treat.

Macbeth3—Wolpe's three-actor adaptation—does not fare as well. I reviewed Macbeth3 in an earlier incarnation, in which a woman played Macbeth, a man played her husband, and Wolpe herself played pretty much everyone else. That production had some problems—most notably, the actor playing Lady Macbeth was simply not believable. But it also had a lot of potential; it was a tight, fierce adaptation with some terrific moments. For instance, Wolpe's Macduff, learning about the slaughter of his family and saying, "I must ... feel it as a man," was a moving touch of humanity in the otherwise inhuman world of the play. The current production, with three male actors, unfortunately suffers from the same Lady Macbeth issues, but now, without Wolpe, loses some of its more memorable acting moments.

Andrew Heffernan provides an interesting interpretation of Macbeth—he's as indecisive as Hamlet but with bloodier consequences; and there's definitely something to be said for the imagery (not possible with a female in the role) of a muscular man, stripped to the waist, covered with blood. But Kevin Vavasseur is simply out of his depth with Lady Macbeth; his line-reads are more concerned with meter than meaning, and his attempts to keep his voice sounding female and soft rob his Lady Macbeth of the ability to yell—even when she has "discovered" murder in her house. Vavasseur gives Lady Macbeth submissive gestures and a wheedling manner, but he never once convinces us that the Lady is actually female. He gets no help from costume designer Allison Leach, who puts Lady Macbeth in a sleeveless dress, which always reveals his muscular arms (and, once, his manly leg)—we are always reminded that Lady Macbeth is simply a man trapped in a corset. In one way, it's a perceptive insight into the nature of the character—but it does lack any dramatic believability.

The Importance of Being Earnest and Macbeth3 are running in repertory with an adaptation of The Winter's Tale (called A Tyrant's Tale) at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica through June 27, 2010. For tickets and information, visit www.lawsc.net

Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company presents the Wicked Wilde Shakespeare Festival. Director/Producer/Adaptations Lisa Wolpe; Co-Producer/Marketing Kevin Vavasseur; Co-Producer/Intern Coordinator Laura Covelli; Associate Producer/Marketing Diane Baker; Associate Director (Earnest)/Choreographer Cate Caplin; Stage Manager Michelle Stann; Pre-Production Stage Manager Rachel Myles; Production Designer Mia Torres; Lighting Designer Maura McGuinness; Costume Designer Allison Leach; Sound and Music Rachel Myles, Scott McRae, Michelle Stann, Lisa Wolpe; Fight Choreographer Edgar Landa; Publicist Lucy Pollak Public Relations; New Media Marketing Sonny Patel; Photographer Brent Dundore Photography.

Cast:

The Importance of Being Earnest
Algernon Cynthia Beckert
Lane/Merriman Kevin Vavasseur
Jack Worthing Lisa Wolpe
Lady Bracknell John Achorn
Gwendolyn Fairfax Katrinka Wolfson
Cecily Cardew Laura Covelli
Ms. Prism Linda Biseti
Dr. Chasuble Mark Bramhall

Macbeth3
Macbeth Andrew Heffernan
Satan/Lady Macbeth/Guard Kevin Vavasseur
Witch/Banquo/Duncan/Porter/Macduff Scott McRae


Photo: Steven John Koeppe


- Sharon Perlmutter






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