Ernest in Love @ Irish Repertory Theatre, New York

cast list
Annika Boras, Brad Bradley, Kerry Conte, Katie Fabel, Beth Fowler, Kristin Griffith, Ian Holcomb, Peter Maloney, Noah Racey

directed by
Charlotte Moore
“A handbag?” Lady Bracknell famously shrieks in the classic Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Earnest. Typically, this is the line that brings the house down, at least if the grand dame playing the part has got the proper comic timing.

That was Earnest the play, however. And Ernest in Love, the musical adaptation of Wilde’s work which originally played off-Broadway in the late 1950s, is a whole different beast, even if the bulk of its innards remain rather stolidly (and stodgily) similar overall.

In the Irish Repertory Theatre’s current revival of Ernest in Love, even esteemed stage actress Beth Fowler, who takes on the role of Bracknell, isn’t given the proper chance to shine. The handbag line has been converted to a song – A Handbag Is Not A Proper Mother – a clunker if ever there was one, strung in amongst a handful of other clunkers, combined to form a show far inferior to its source material despite the determined efforts of book writer-lyricist Anne Croswell and composer Lee Pockriss.

The plot – one of mistaken identities as regards two mismatched pairs of lovers – is more or less identical to that of Wilde’s play. And many of his sparkling one-liners are still on display in between the rather boring songs the writers have peppered throughout. There’s a reason Wilde concocted this particular story as a play, however. First and foremost, the subject matter at hand doesn’t ever really reach song-inspiring heights.

Sure, there are minor quibbles between the characters, but there’s nothing in Earnest that even remotely calls for an epic area. The stakes are low and the songs that Pockriss and Croswell have written for their musical adaptation are similarly lackluster. None stick out as highlights; each is merely serviceable. Some fare even less well.

Besides for Beth Fowler in the role of Lady Bracknell, Noah Racey as Jack Worthing and Ian Holcomb as Algernon Moncrieff stand out as amiable leading men. For the most part, the cast provides charm and grace to the listless material on hand. Director Charlotte Moore’s low-budget production features a four-person orchestra that suits Ernest in Love‘s music just fine. It’s not so much that this production has ruined Ernest in Love so much as that Ernest in Love, at its most essential level, pales so egregiously in comparison to Wilde’s original play.

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