Opening night in New York (Brooklyn Academy of Music)
Extract from Curtain Up, Internet Theatre Magazine
by Les Gutman
The big names attached to this production may be Lynn Redgrave (who plays Lady Bracknell) and Sir Peter Hall (its director), but its shining star is Ms. Margolyes, the brilliant British character actress who portrays Miss Prism…What she does here is set Wilde’s words on fire, and then stoke the flames with every motion her short but ample body makes.
No one could quite match this performance, and the night I attended it was Ms. Margolyes who received the most enthusiastic ovation at the curtain call…Ms. Redgrave’s Lady Bracknell was a bit of a surprise. One of Wilde’s unspoken puns in The Importance of Being Earnest of course surrounds the word “Earnest” and its proper name homonym. Neither of the two young men in the play who at times adopt the name Ernest are earnest, but Lady Bracknell is, and often hideously so. She is the linchpin of Wilde’s satire — the vehicle by which he skewers the behavior of the upper class, rendered especially piercing because Lady Bracknell is an aristocrat by marriage but not by birth. Sir Peter Hall, presumably feeling these observations are of less interest today, strips them from the play…Lady Bracknell isn’t the monster she appears to be in other productions; whereas Jack (James Waterston) and Algernon (Robert Petkoff) are very aware of how clever they are spouting Wilde’s witticisms (and in Petkoff’s case, very much so), normally, Bracknell is not: the bite of her zingers is deep precisely because of her earnestness. Here, however, one senses she’s actually enjoying herself. It’s not an unreasonable choice, but it deprives Ms. Redgrave of some of her ammunition, and the resulting performance, while perfectly fine, is less than memorable.
There you have it. I can neither do nor say any more.