The Importance of Being Earnest
This two-man British adaptation of Oscar Wilde's great play is initially amusing, but the joke wears thin.
The pair makes no pretense of scurrying or morphing on the sly. Indeed, virtually everything's out in the open. If anything, the two performers drag out the action to accentuate the bother involved in all this costume-changing. By the play's end, 2 ½ hours later, stripped to their undies but still retaining their spats, the pair essentially admit defeat. A tousled wig may address a hastily flourished skirt or Lady Bracknell's imposing peahen-topped hat an agglomerate of abandoned clothing.
But the question remains whether Wilde's genius is truly served by music-hall shenanigans such as having young Cecily -- whom Woods plays like Melanie Griffith on Qaaludes -- show off her self-bestowed "engagement ring" by brandishing her third finger, or letting her lewdly strip and unzip her Ernest as they innocently plight their troth? Cecily was never meant to be a slatternly bumpkin; indeed, her native wit -- which proves a worthy weapon in the face of Gwendolyn's over-cultivated wiles -- merits admiration as one of Wilde's more delightful creations.
While Woods acts as if he'd been given license to impose his own signature moves and moues on whatever role he happens to be playing, Haynes makes more of an effort to differentiate among characters and also seems to have a greater appreciation of the play's subtler conceits.
The disparity in their approaches short-circuits any tendency toward camp. Indeed, apart from a few widely spaced if egregious lapses of taste -- is it absolutely necessary that we witness Reverend Chasuble jerking off as he spies on the young lovers? -- this Earnest is basically played straight.