Sunday, August 28, 2011

the importance of being louis

Saturday night was theater night in Pátzcuaro.

A local group (Left Bank readers Theater) was presenting a production of The Importance of Being Earnest.  The moment I heard about it, I grabbed a reservation. 

I'm glad I did.  The place was packed.

And I almost missed it.  I had just started watching Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman -- a mockumentary about community theater in Missouri.  I was barely into the film when I remembered.  I should not be watching a film about community theater.  I should be watching a community theater production.

It was ten minutes until curtain time.  Fortunately, this is Mexico, and I had plenty of time to find a seat.

The play appears to expatriate ears as a bit of fluff.  A series of Oscar Wilde aphorisms strung together to appreciate his amazing wit.

But, when he wrote it in 1885, the play was somewhat revolutionary.  The fact that he made fun of social station, marriage, birth, and the church was not new.  W.S. Gilbert had been doing it for three decades.

It was his tone.  Wilde's sense of irony treated each of his targets as trivial.  That was new.  Because his audience members were the very people he was trivializing.  It is one thing to be laughed at.  It is quite another thing to be told you do not matter.


For obvious reasons, American audiences and current British audiences are enthralled with the piece.  Probably because many of them miss the point that Wilde is ultimately trivializing them, as well.

But that is the joy of wit.  It works best when its target misses the whole point.

It is easy just to enjoy the aphorisms.  And to wait for the next wave of Wilde wit to engulf you.  That is what I did.  Unlike American television situation comedy where you are merely numbed.

Like all local productions, the quality of performance varied.  I expected to see a reading in costume.  I got much more -- even though a couple of the actors were tied to their scripts on stage.

I assume you know the storyline.  So, I will dispense with a synopsis.  But I was very impressed with three of the players. 

The actor who played John Worthing (Jerry Eagelbach) helped to bring his rather serious, but deceitful, character to life.  It is a tough role.  The character represents some of the stiffer personality traits of a Victorian gentleman wrapped in the clothes of tradesman manipulation.

Adela Farah played the 18-year old ingenue, Cecily Cardew.  The fact she is Mexican and a  bit over 18 did not matter.  She added just the right flair of comedy, naivete, and sexuality that brought a whole new interpretation to a part that it too often played as a cartoon figure.


And then there was Louis.  Louis Montonas.  You met him (more tidbits) when I first came to Pátzcuaro.  It was at his 90th birthday celebration that I learned about the play.

He nabbed the play's best part -- Lady Bracknell.  And he was great in drag.  Wilde wrote Lady Bracknell as a force of nature.  The type of social queen who dominates every room she enters.

It is a tough part.  But Louis hit all the right notes.  Just the right timing in Wilde's best lines.  A sense of outrage more social than internal.  The type of socialite who revels in her own ignorance.  Dame Edith Evans with an attitude.

Some people dislike the play because of its "artificial" coincidences.  I usually offer the excuse that they are artistic artifices.  But they are more that.  Coincidences happen all the time in life.

I already offered you the Waiting for Guffman example.  But that may be steeped in too much irony to prove my point.

Three weeks ago, I was siting in the Grand Plaza eating my corn fungus chicken when two friends from Melaque invited me to a Sunday brunch.  The wife in the couple is best friends with her former sister-in-law.  And that former sister-in-law is a neighbor of Louis Montanos.  It was through that connection I went the 90th birthday brunch.  And ended up in room watching a play where I knew quite a few members in the audience.

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But it is the stuff of which personal; relationships are made.



Felipe Zapata said...

This show was sold out, I heard. I wonder why they chose a cramped corner of a restaurant to stage the play instead of one of the two nice theaters in town. I don't imagine it would have cost much to rent either.

Nita said...

It's easy to see that you are enjoying every moment of your vacation, or whatever you're calling it. The best thing is, I'm enjoying it, too.

Steve Cotton said...

These two months have packed in almost a year's worth of activity for me.  Now, I need to get back to my beach hammock -- if only to rest.