For those not familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest, in brief: Oscar Wilde arranged some snappy one-liners into a sly critique of the British upper class, disguised them as a romantic farce, and played them for the clueless enjoyment of said class. Puns are involved. Now, Portland Center Stage (PCS) weighs in on Wilde's classic with a heedlessly high-spirited, by-the-book production.
The word "frothy" keeps coming up in relation to this show. Granted, the state of the US economy was probably not universally recognized as "screwed" when PCS selected Earnest as a mainstage production, but these days it seems almost perverse to present a play about rich people having fun being rich, even if it is served with a side of satire (just a dollop, in this production's case). It's a poor historic moment for watching rich people flaunt their undeserved wealth, unless the underlying intention of the show is to sow the seeds of a class rebellion. But "frothy"? Sure. Magenta dresses sweep over a cream-and-beige tiled floor, one-liners snap, pretty young men smirk in their waistcoats.
The four young leads turn in absolutely serviceable, absolutely unremarkable performances. Transport them to any regional theater stage and they'd be equally at home. Chris Coleman's direction ensures that no element of the production has time to sink in, as he poses his pretty cast in variously fetching attitudes while keeping the play moving at a breathless pace that screeches to two unaccountably abrupt halts for intermissions.
Thank god for Tim True, Todd Van Voris, and Sharonlee McLean–local actors all–deployed here to lend a little soul to this glossy production. Van Voris, in particular, brings a freshness to Wilde's oft-repeated lines, something the four leads could learn from: With three aforementioned exceptions, the production fails to give the impression that there's much intellect behind the bandiage–everything else just froths along.
There's some debate over just how aggressively Wilde laced Earnest with homosexual subtext, but Coleman's production sticks to the straight and narrow. How I wish PCS had gayed it up—then at least there'd be something to talk about. As it stands, this little diversion is the non-event of the season.