Thoroughly Stupid Things (or the Continuous Importance of Being Earnest)
nytheatre.com review by Zachary Fithian
August 10, 2008
It is only fitting that in a world of film sequels and superhero franchises that there should be sequels to famous plays, too. Thoroughly Stupid Things is presented as a continuation of and homage to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Playwright Montserrat Mendez admits in his statement in the program that his wit "pales in comparison to Wilde's," but he is surely selling himself short. His ability to pun and rhyme is quite admirable, and he takes every opportunity to display his skills in a faithful and, overall, successful approximation of a dusty British comedy.
We find two women (Gwendolen and Cecily) whose lives consist mostly of drinking tea, sitting around and waiting for their friends to arrive, and then drinking tea with their friends. Their husbands, naturally, spend most of their time away from home in a members-only club proficient in the art of rhyme. The women, wondering whether all this time away involves other women, decide to disguise themselves as men (both, of course, named Earnest) to see what, in fact, is up. Hilarity ensues.
Rapid-fire writing replete with wordplay requires a talented cast and this one is certainly well-prepared; every single member, it seems, elicited at least one bout of riotous laughter from the audience. Most of them are required to affect a British accent (though some French), and, though clearly put-on, the fake manner of speaking serves only to heighten the ridiculousness of the whole situation.
Two particular standouts are Stephanie Lovell as the absent-minded yet well-meaning housekeeper and H. Dean Jones, performing double duty as the flamboyant butler and neighborhood man of the cloth. Lovell's Ms. Prism spends most of the play trying to cover up the fact that she has lost something near and dear to the lady of the house, but she is clearly much more at home munching on a loaf of bread than playing criminal mastermind. It is hard to find her anything but endearing.
Jones serves to anchor the play, beginning as narrator and attempting to bridge the gap between Wilde's original and this sequel. He is quickly swept into the action, however, as an all-too-ridiculous manservant. His every move was met with a range of laughter from giggles to gut-busting guffaws. Playing comic relief isn't easy, and Jones accomplishes the feat by going just enough over the top. Equally as admirable, however, is his quick change to Dr. Chausable, a dour neighborhood minister who is quite a far cry from the aptly named Merriman.
Much of the humor of the play arises from its language. Wordplay and rhyme are never shied away from, especially in the second act, which is written almost wholly in a loose, rhyming verse. Though a tad too long, the act shows Mendez's true ability with language. (English, by the way, is not his native tongue, which makes it all the more impressive.) I spent about five minutes after the end of the show attempting to rhyme my thoughts, a project which was quickly abandoned when I had the distinct feeling of my brain leaking out my ears. In all, Thoroughly Stupid Things is a fun, clever night of theatre.