Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Wilde in Austin

Last night Kathy and I attended the first performance we've seen at Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts - a rendition of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" put on by the UT Department of Theater and the Austin Shakespeare group, and for my money (@$32 per head) I thought it was an excellent performance.

The play was performed in the round and there wasn't a single bad seat in the house. I won't try to parse the details of the performance, but here's an excellent review that gives a good sense of the event.

The costumes and set were visually gorgeous, particularly the women's dresses which displayed the long trains and high Victorian-era style one might have seen when the play first debuted in London in the 1890s. Some of the "bonnets" worn by the actresses - particularly a hat worn by the woman playing Mrs. Marchmont - were so elaborate and outlandish they almost made me laugh as hard as the dialogue.

I'd not seen this play performed before and it's been 20 years since I read it, so after seeing this performance (which shortened the script to cater to the shorter attention spans of modern audiences), I'm now anxious to go back and read the full text again as it made me laugh out loud nearly from start to finish.

The actors motion, to a person, was incredibly fluid and graceful, and the lilting British accents they adopted gave Wilde's prose an impact they couldn't have achieved in the local dialect. Good choice, IMO, to make it a period piece instead of trying to modernize the setting or script.

One of the actresses in a Q&A after the event said their vocal coach had told them to emphasize the adverbs in Wilde's script instead of the nouns, because it emphasized that what the speaker thought was important was their own opinion, not the actual subject of the conversation. I don't think I'd have noticed that particular affectation if she hadn't mentioned it, but, it's absolutely true that that aspect of their delivery made the humorous lines all the funnier.

The UT MFA grad students who performed the five main roles did an admirable, professional-level job to the point where I can honestly say I wouldn't have expected a higher caliber performance if I'd seen it in New York. Everybody involved deserves a lot of credit.

They'll only be performing the play for one more weekend, so anyone interested should make their plans accordingly.

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