It’s been a dispiriting week of news, with tragedies, disasters, outrages, crime. In that sense, I suppose, it’s not so different from any other week. Can anything lift our spirits nowadays?
Try showing up at the Piggott Theater sometime between now and August 11 for the Stanford Summer Theater‘s production of Oscar Wilde‘s The Importance of Being Earnest. Under the clever and skilful direction of Lynne Soffer, the production sparkles and snaps. I think it may be the all-round best show I’ve seen by the summer repertory yet – for ensemble performance, for set design, for costumes, and more.
I have to admit I approached the theater with trepidation. I’ve seen the 1952 classic performance with Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell, and Joan Greenwood, Michael Redgrave, Dorothy Tutin, Michael Denison, and Margaret Rutherford, so my standards are unreasonably high. The timing for Wilde’s wonder piece must be perfect – otherwise it’s like a soufflé left in the oven for a minute too long.
Of course, not all the performances were perfectly spot-on, but the esprit of the cast who clearly enjoyed working with one another made up for any minor flaws, and the euphoria carried into the opening-night reception afterwards.
Here’s what the Stanford Summer Theater’s founder and artistic director, Rush Rehm, wrote in the evening’s program:
As Wilde famously wrote, “The comic spirit is a necessity in life, a purge to all human vanity.” We need that spirit more than ever, as we face the daunting challenges that lie ahead. If I listed them all here, you’d just have to laugh … or give up the ghost. …
I have been passionately in love with this play since I first ran into it as an undergrad quite a while ago. I found its wit and brilliance of language a perfect fit with the hollowness of the world it attempts to expose, and that truth resounds to this day.
Wilde, himself, believed in “living as an art” and has filled this play with characters who share that love to the nth degree. While they are all richly “extended characters,” we trust that bringing them alive truthfully and radiantly is all that Mr. Wilde would wish of us. As my old acting teacher, Bill Hickey, used to say, “There is no size to truth.”
Get tickets quickly here. It’s likely to sell out fast.
As a warm-up, watch Dame Edith Evans grill Michael Redgrave in the clip below: