So maybe Brian Bedford, the director and drag-ified star of The Importance of Being Earnest on Broadway, doesn’t know that it is Drag History Month. And maybe he didn’t knowingly out-perform all of the old-men-turned-drag-queens from Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. He may not even have known that in his own way, he has set a new bar for Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknells of the future. But what he did know is that New York LOVES drag queens! And let me tell you, Oscar Wilde WOULD be proud.
“I am from Chicago! JK, England.”
Oscar Wilde, prominent British gay author and icon, wrote The Importance of Being Earnest in 1894, and it is still considered his most notable work. What perhaps is most amazing about it, is that somehow, having been written 117 years ago at this point, it is still completely relevant. The plot centers around two men who are courting two ladies. The couples’ love for each other is not really the point, the show is more just a farcical comedy about lying to get in bed with someone. In fact, even the women aren’t pure of heart; they aren’t in love with the men at all, but only with the name “Ernest”. The men lie and concoct false identities, until things descend into a melée when both women think they are dating the same man named Ernest, and hilarity (or mild 19th century amusement, as it were) ensues.
“Well of course I’m a size zero.”
I’m not sure that Oscar Wilde intended his aging matriarch Lady Bracknell to be played by a man, but Shakespeare did it all the time, so he wouldn’t be the first! Brian Bedford gives a subtly biting performance as Gwendolyn’s formidable mother – I certainly wouldn’t want to cross her. Armed with a scowl and a bustle, Bedford paces the stage harshly judging everyone onstage at all times (ya know, just like any good drag queen). The other standout performance in my eyes comes from Santino Fontana who plays Algernon, one of the incognito Ernests. He teases the boundaries of playing a straight guy with such a gay wink, it’s as if Wilde himself were in on the joke.
It’s fun to play straight when you’re in an Oscar Wilde play!
There is nothing outwardly gay about The Importance of Being Ernest, (it *was* written 75 years before Stonewall), however, the subtext is certainly there. The fights between the two women are exactly like two gay man cattily throwing shade at a bar, and some have even said that “is he Ernest?” was a sort of secret code for “is he gay?” Either way, it’s is a highbrow play with highbrow humor that even lowbrow people can enjoy.
Check out some highlights from the show here!