The Importance Of Being Earnest - The Flavour Of ChampagneWednesday, March 21, 2012
Más que los otros de su especie, Oscar Wilde fue un homo ludens. Jugó con el teatro; La importancia de llamarse Ernesto o, como quiere Alfonso Reyes, La importancia de ser severo, es la única comedia del mundo que tiene el sabor del champagne
More than others of his kind, Oscar Wilde was a homo Ludens. He played with theatre, with his Importance of Being Ernest or as Alfonso Reyes would want, The Importance of Being Severe. It is the only comedy/farce with the flavour of champagne.
The above quote by Jorge Luís Borges and, at best, my prosaic translation into English is but a warning to readers here that this review of the Arts Club production on opening night of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest today at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage is going to be an over the top rave and long. You may want to stop here.
We Argentines of a certain generation (mine) are great admirers of anything English, and in particular those of us (like me) who happen to be partly English. In fact we colonials are more English than the English. I have to proudly boast that I make excellent cucumber shandwiches (crustless) when I serve high tea in my rose garden in the summer.
I cannot remember, when I was 8 or 9, if I saw The Importance of Being Earnest before or after I saw an amateur high school production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. There is a possibility that my first viewing of Wilde’s play would have been in Spanish. There has always been a problem in the translation of the play as earnest in Spanish only means Ernest the name. There is no play of words. And consider that one of the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Wilde (pronounced wheel-deh) is probably named after a doctor Juan Antonio Wilde but most in BA affirm that Wilde is named after the famous Englishman.
Wilde published The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888. Jorge Luís Borges was born in 1899 and by the time he was 9 he was tinkering with writing in the style of Cervantes. He gave that up and opted for the translation of The Happy Prince (read to me by my father when I was 5 or 6) which was published in the Argentine newspaper El País. Since the translation was signed Jorge Borges, everybody thought it to be Borges’s father. Before he died in 1986 Jorge Luis Borges wrote that The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose and The Selfish Giant are fairy stories not in the style of Grimm but more like Hans Christian Anderson with the "added melancholic irony that is such a peculiar attribute of Oscar Wilde."
Before I go into how my wife and Rosemary enjoyed ourselves with this terrific production I want to point out the importance of the look of the play. The set featured trunks and luggage and hidden, that all-important black bag with the double handles. The costumes were scrumptious and both Charlie Gallant (as Algernon Moncreiff) and Ryan Beil (as Jack Worthing) were appropriately dressed as dandies as Borges would write In Other Inquisitions 1937 - 1952 (Pan American Press) in the chapter About Oscar Wilde:
|"Associate" dramaturg Malcolm Parry &|
Director David Mackay
Seeing the suits worn by Beil and Gallant (Nancy Bryan, costume designer) immediately made me think of our J.J. Lee and his book The Measure of a Man –The Story of a Father, A Son and a Suit. In it Lee writes:
In 1882 Oscar Wilde tried his best to overthrow a tyrant whose reign would span the last half of the nineteenth century and eventually bleed the twentieth. It was not Nicholas I of Montenegro, nor was it Franz Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Queen Victoria ruled from1937 to 1901, but Wilde’s goal was not to supplant her. No, Wilde wished to revolt against the dominance and singular plainness of men’s dark coats and their equally constrictive consort – pants.
So in spite of the wonderful look of the play (and my, oh my, the dresses worn by Amber Lewis as Gwendolyn Fairfax, Ella Simon as Cecily Cardew, and Allan Zinyk as Lady Bracknell), alas I must quibble here with the non appearance of what would have been Wilde’s choice, had he whispered into Bryant’s ears, “Satin knee breeches if you please!”
The Importance of Being Earnest is a play where for once I can affirm that the sound at the Stanley, the diction at the Stanley were superb (kudos to the actors for this) so that every delicious turn of Wildean phrase was there for my complete enjoyment and I laughed and laughed at David Mackay’s direction of what really was a food fight featuring sandwiches (of the cucumber and bread and butter kind) cake and muffins. I had forgotten that traditionally the crusty and overbearing Lady Bracknell is usually played by a man. I was reminded by an equally crusty but certainly not overbearing John MacLachlan Gray who asked me who was the man who played her. As it turned out it was Allan Zinyk who somehow softened up the part by channelling, effortlessly, Rosalind Russell’s Auntie Mame.
Luckily for Rosemary I was able to secure a children’s theatre cushion so that she could see over the tall man in front of her, John Gray’s son, Zachary.
All in all the evening was one of pleasure and laughter where every bit of humourous wit, ever so familiar, was confirmed by Christopher Dafoe, fils, who said to me after the show, “After Shakespeare, Wilde is the most often quoted in our language.”
|Wilde, Buenos Aires|
But I must return to Borges, via a train in England that took me to a haunt of Wilde himself.
In 1994 I stood on the platform at Crew Station, Chestershire. The rectangular digital clock read 12:18. The scene felt no different from the one of my childhood. As in Buenos Aires, I had to look to my right to see if the train was coming. The smell of iron rust on the tracks would have told me where I was, eyes closed. I could feel the comforting familiarity of the English train station. I was waiting for the 12:33, 225 Intercity, to transport me at over 200 kilometres per hour to Euston Station, London. This was exciting: riding an English train in England.
Looking out on the rapidly passing scenery, I saw green hills, interrupted here and there by English oaks. Under miniature clouds and a horizon so close I could almost touch it, sheep graze. Their backsides were sprayed with bright red or blue paint - a Turner on acid. By the time the train reached Watford, the scenery gradually turned urban. I could see dying vines on the old brick embankments. Could those be morning glory? Miss Tink, the childhood governess of Jorge Luis Borges, had to come from here. Perhaps it was she who made Borges a lifelong Anglophile. From her he had learned to read in English before Spanish. As an adult, Borges proclaimed that "English is the only language to be known. English literature contains and sums up all things."
At 14:20, five minutes early, my train arrived at a disappointingly '60s-modernized Euston Station. A black taxi deposited me and my luggage at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street.
Oscar Wilde, while staying here, at his favourite Tower Room, was arrested in 1895 and taken to Reading Gaol. The poet Sir John Betjeman wrote:
"...Mr. Woilde, we've come for tew
Where felons and criminals dwell.
We must ask yew tew leave with us
For this is the Cadogan Hotel....."