A Wonderfully Wilde Look At The Life Of A Legend In “The Importance Of Being Oscar”

Thinking Cap Theatre is back in action at the eclectic Mad Arts Gallery with an equally eclectic exploration of The Importance Of Being Oscar. This play was written and first performed by Irish actor Micheál Mac Liammóir as a one-man show in 1960, with the title being an allusion to one of the best-known works of literary icon Oscar Wilde.

Here, though, the piece has been reimagined by the directorial vision of Nicole Stodard to become a three-actor endeavor. While it’s up to them all to help channel Oscar’s spirit, it’s Ronnie Larsen who’s mostly tasked with portraying the man himself, as well as a few other key figures. He is joined onstage by Bree-Anna Obst and Travon Pierre, each of who play multitudes of characters from Wilde’s life as well as those that appear in reenactments of his work. 

Together, the three actors make for an impressively diverse band of Wildeans, showing impressive versatility as they play characters whose ages, genders, and other characteristics run just about the full gamut. This expanded cast seems necessary to accommodate Stodard’s expansive vision, which extends throughout the rest of the performance, which also allows Wilde’s poems to blossom into disco extravaganzas or rollicking vaudeville trios.

Ideal Husband

To change identities, the actors often report to stations on either side of the stage to quickly add and remove costume pieces to keep up with the play’s manic pace, with accouterments ranging from elegant suits and fur coats to cowboy hats and kerchiefs. Combined with delightful psychedelic projections by Obst and Stodard and effective set design by Alyiece Moretto-Watkins and lighting design by Matt Griffin, this creates a visually stimulating scenescape that keeps any of the occasionally old-fashioned language or Victorian setting from ever getting stiff or dreary. Instead, delightfully anachronistic innovations abound, allowing actors to wield microphones in a Spring-Awakening like fashion, such as when Wilde serenades his unrequited love Lily Linheart, played with marvelous physical comedy by Obst. 

This theatricality seems in perfect step with Wilde’s sensibilities and larger than life persona. While fans of his will find much to recognize in the play’s retelling of his life, as someone who has run into some of Wilde’s more popular work but never had the inclination to look into him any further, I was in for a few surprises, like the fact that the gay icon pursued women and eventually married one, and that his final days were defined not only by isolation and disgrace but by some particularly dreary wallpaper. 

Other highlights include Pierre’s turn as the title character of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Larsen’s delightful portrait of the cartoonish and campy Lady Bracknell, one the characters he plays along with the play’s magnetic central figure, a role which requires far more depth. Luckily, Larsen is also up to its dramatic demands, delivering Wilde’s despairing “Des Profundis” with all the necessary intensity. 

Basil Paints Dorian

However, though they are performed as well as the play’s other moments, I found the segments that explore Wilde’s life significantly less well-written and engaging than the re-enactments of Wilde’s work itself. 

While I thus wouldn’t necessarily bet on this play lasting as long in the annals of history as Wilde’s work has, you’ll still come away from The Importance of Being Oscar with a the broad outlines of his biography, or perhaps with a new curiosity about this enigmatic genius’s life and work. If you’ll pardon my inability to resist the pun, I’d think it still is quite important to be earnest, and it’s hard to imagine a more earnest or enjoyable iteration of this play than Thinking Cap’s, which succeeds tremendously at both exploring and enlivening what is ultimately a tragic life. You have only a few more chances to catch the spectacle before it closes up on this October 30th, so don’t miss your last chance to get Wilde!

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