By Mary Damiano
Sometimes the allure of a theatre production is who’s in it. Sometimes it’s the piece itself. And sometimes it’s the theatre and the director helming the production.
For me, Thinking Cap Theatre falls into that third category. It doesn’t matter what show they show do, I’m more interested in what artistic director and company founder Nicole Stodard does with it. Stodard is an underrated force with endless vision and talent that she pours into every production.
Thinking Cap Theatre’s latest production is no exception. Written by Michael Mac Liammoir as a solo show which he performed more than a thousand times, Stodard has reimagined The Importance of Being Oscar into a funny and dark three-person show with vaudevillian sensibilities.
Ronnie Larsen, in a rare appearance outside of his own theatre, The Foundry, plays Oscar Wilde. Larsen is a terrific actor, and here at Thinking Cap, he gets to show even more of the range he exhibited in his own shows, An Evening with John Wayne Gacy and the more recent hit, The Actors, two plays Larsen wrote. As Oscar Wilde, the famous and infamous Irish novelist, poet, and playwright who was tried and jailed for “gross indecency” over his relationship with another man, Larsen takes the audience on Oscar’s journey, from a young man arriving in London with child-like awe and wonder at the big city, through his own witty delight in his many successes, to his tragic downfall, a victim of societal mores, and his post-prison years when he sought to find a place for himself in a world that failed him. Larsen’s portrayal is elegant and funny, but also moving and heartbreaking.
The first act of the show is played broadly, with a wink to the audience, but the tone changes in the second act, when Oscar is on trial and eventually imprisoned. That shift echos Oscar’s change in circumstance. Larsen’s monologue of De Profundis, a long letter he wrote in prison to his former lover, is especially chilling, with Larsen’s plaintive performance of Oscar’s words set against a grim, shadowy projection of prison window bars. Stodard’s staging circles back to vaudeville in the final moments, with Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol set to bouncy music.
Travon Pierre and Bree-Anna Obst, who also designed the excellent sound and projections with Stodard, are terrific, playing all the other characters in the show, Oscar’s friends, lovers, colleagues, family, and jailers, as well as characters from The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. They change characters on a dime, with onstage costume changes from two armoires that flank the stage.
The Importance of Being Oscar is another feather in Stodard’s impressive Cap. I can hardly wait to see what she does next.
The Importance of Being Oscar runs through Sunday, October 30, at MAD Arts, 481 S. Federal Highway, Dania Beach, For tickets and more information, visit ThinkingCapTheatre.org
Photo: Ronnie Larsen as Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Oscar at Thinking Cap Theatre.
Photo Credit: Ashley Brooke Miller.