By: Aug. 28, 2013

Oscar Wilde's most famous farce re-set among the uber-masculine Paris of Ernest Hemingway? At first Elliot B. Quick and James Rutherford's wild theatrical mashup The Importance of being Ernest Hemingway feels like a cheap gag, a flimsy excuse to make outrageously exaggerated acting choices in an hilariously misguided attempt to modernize an old chestnut. But there is something more subversive going on- as the play becomes less Wilde and more Hemingway, new ideas are revealed, revealing a deeper pain more usually masked by the classic comedy.

The main plot is Earnest, but transplanted to 1920s France, and with talk of bullfights and boxing replacing more fey pursuits. Sections of Hemingway pepper the familiar story and provide an alternative reading of the relationships between the characters. Gwendolyn (Anne Troup) is even more of a modern woman than in the original play, and Lady Bracknell is completely unrecognizable (which is not to say bad- Charise Greene's deliriously insane performance is one of the highlights of the show). The homoerotics between Jack (Timothy Hassler) and Algernon (Ross Cowan) make the leap from subtext to full-on sexuality. Elements from Wilde's De Profundis and Salome make appearances in the text as well, leading to a more tragic take on and poignant deconstruction of the events of the final act, in some ways mirroring Wilde's own personal life.

The play is directed and adapted by James Rutherford in collaboration with Elliot B. Quick. Oona Curley's scenic and lighting design is gorgeous, a main "boxing ring" the main structural element, which she varies effectively with each act. Nikki Delhomme's costumes are beautiful, sexy, and character-specific, with some wonderful surprises. Alex Clifford's original music is perfectly jazzy (and a penultimate song sung onstage is gorgeous), and Michael Costagliola's sound design complements it.

The actors do a wonderful job, especially Cowan as Algernon. Charlotte Graham is a perfect Cecily, who would not be out of place in a more straightforward production of Earnest. Alexander Salamat and Leighton Bryan are a sweet couple as Chasuble and Prism (Salamat also does the extremely impressive fight choreography). Wheaton Simis is an unusually interesting Merriman, playing the (somewhat beefed up) role entirely in French. Ned Riseley is an adorably put-upon Lane (Both servants also tend bar before the show and at intermission).

Though the conception and execution is excellent, the play suffers from being a bit too long (the first act alone is 90 minutes), and since the original Earnest is such a well-oiled bicycle, certain interpolations slow down the narrative (and increasingly surreal staging elements muddy things further). Even though, after all, the usual textual story is not what is ultimately at stake in this production, it still comes off as jarring. But the play is fascinating in its alternate universe take on the characters and, especially for fans of the original writers, well worth a viewing.

The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway, produced by M-34, runs at the Access Theater - 380 Broadway (at White Street) 4th floor. Remaining performances: August 29, 30, 31, September 1st all at 8pm. For more information, visit

Pictured: [Left to Right] Anne Troup (Gwendolyn), Tim Hassler (Jack), Ross Cowan (Algy), Charlotte Graham (Cecily). Photo Credit: Nikki Delhomme.