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The Epitomy of Camp

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l to r: Karen Stephens, Clay Cartland, Noah Levine and Carey Hart l to r: Karen Stephens, Clay Cartland, Noah Levine and Carey Hart

Everyone knows Oscar Wilde was brilliant, and I think he would say the same about the new production of his most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest at Ft. Lauderdale's Vanguard Theatre.

This reimagining of the play in disco-era 1978 is due to director Nicole Stodard, artistic director of the Vanguard. The mirror ball in the ceiling says it all, and the John Travolta moves by lead actor Clay Cartland brings it to life: this is Disco Wilde. Or wild disco.

The Deco set, with Cartland on couch and Price gesturing at rightThe Deco set, with Cartland on couch and Price gesturing at rightThe metaphors are not the only thing that get bent in this production. The gender-bending begins with the casting. Elizabeth Price is cast in the male role of John Worthing, while Noah Levine and Johnnie Bowls don drag for their roles as Cecily and Miss Prism. Prism's outfit and makeup are really over-the-top, all the way to extreme glam.


The time period of the 70s is a bit blurred in this production. The elegant set design by Ayliece Moretto is very Deco, from the 1930s, while the character of John Worthing looks and sounds like Bowzer from the 50s. There is an artistic tension between the buttoned-down 1890s and the loose 1970s. Whether or not the play successfully deals with this tension is very much in the eye of the beholder.
 

Levine at left, Bowls centre, Gibbons at rightLevine at left, Bowls centre, Gibbons at rightEvery character in the play gets his (or her) due. Jim Gibbons, for example, is dressed in chaps with bare legs up to his hips as seen from the front. His character says "I myself am peculiary sensitive to drafts," as he spreads his legs wide. When Clay (Algernon Moncrieffe in the play) addresses his love interest Cecily he says "I don't care about anyone in the whole world but you." But while he says this, he is admiring himself in a mirror! Two of many moments of hilarity in the play.  And a disco fight scene between two of the female characters was a show-stopper. Everyone I glanced at during the production had a big grin on their faces, and all the actors turned out excellent performances.

 

In the programme notes, Stodard says she wrote her master's thesis on Wilde. "Wilde was a lover of 'style,' so my mission, in part, was to give the play a dazzling facelift that would allow a broader, contemporary audience to enjoy his wit without investing 3 hours at the theatre." She has succeeded admirably.

 The Importance of Being Earnest is being performed through Dec. 13, 2015.

 

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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