Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, A SMALL FIRE, PANTS ON FIRE’S METAMORHPOSIS, JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN, RESERVOIR and DRACULA.

Roundabout currently has on the boards a fine revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, at the American Airlines Theatre, directed by Brian Bedford and starring Mr. Bedford as that great Victorian battleaxe, Lady Bracknell. I could quibble here and there (and, in fact, I will) but this is definitely one of the best productions of the play of the many I have seen over the years.

The production has been handsomely designed by Desmond Heeley, who did both the sets and costumes; and the latter are particularly exquisite. As for the actors, they are uniformly splendid. David Furr is perfectly stuffy as John Worthing and his partner in Bunburying, Algernon Moncrieff, is played with wonderfully foppish charm by Santino Fontana. Paxton Whitehead is perfect, as usual, as Canon Chasuble. As for the ladies, Sara Topham is an enchanting kewpie doll of a Gwendolyn and Charlotte Parry a delightfully goofy Cecily who put me in mind, more than once, of a young Georgia Engel. Also wonderful is Dana Ivey’s prim and proper, though decidedly hot-to-trot, Miss Prism; though I quibble with her decision to play the small stain in the famous handbag as if it were actually “caused by the explosion of a temperance beverage” when, I think, it was a more potent brew which caused the telling stain.

And now, on to Mr. Bedford’s performance. Wisely, he foregoes camp and plays Lady Bracknell as a little more subdued than others I have seen in the role. It used to be said of actors in great roles that “he hit all his points.” Bedford hits them all, and wonderfully, with the glaring exception of the famous “handbag” line with which, inexplicably, he does nothing, merely tossing it away. I was dumbstruck. Aside from this glaring omission, though, he’s great.

This production will, I think, be much-honored at the end of the season, at awards time. Don’t miss it.

Adam Bock’s latest, A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons, is a short drama about a woman who, inexplicably, loses her various senses one at a time, beginning with her senses of smell and taste and ending with the loss of her sight. Emily is a tough-as-nails owner of a small construction company; her husband, John, has a human resources office job but he is clearly not the main breadwinner. At home, he spends most of his time trying to mollify Emily, who treats him like crap, which means he comes across as kind of a wimp. Of course, the dynamic of this rather unhappy marriage changes as Emily, formerly a completely self-sufficient and rather heartless woman, finds herself completely dependent on her husband.

It seemed to me that Bock rather wrote himself into a corner with this play, which he chose to end with a rather distasteful sex scene (predictably, with Emily on top). This is one of those plays in which the parts are better than the whole; but there is terrific work from Michelle Pawk and Old Reliable Reed Birney as Emily and John, and good supporting work from Celia Keenan-Bolger, as their daughter, and from Victor Williams as the foreman at Emily’s business.

Although A Small Fire isn’t Bock’s best work, it is nonetheless well-worth seeing.

Pants on Fire’s Metamorphosis, at the Flea Theatre, is an import from last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival., brought over by Carol Tambor, who each year chooses the production she feels was the best of the Fringe. It’s a delightful, spoofy take on Ovid’s Metamorphosis by Peter Bramley, in collaboration with the Pants on Fire actors, done in a style which put me in mind of Emma Rice’s Kneehigh Theatre, setting the stories in wartime Britain and incorporating goofy songs which sound like ones of the period, in addition to the standard torch song “Am I Blue?” all staged simply but highly imaginatively by Brantley.

This is a wonderfully theatrical evening in the theatre. I highly recommend it.

I have never read Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman, and have never even seen a production, so I had no preconceptions when I saw the current production of the play, in an adaptation by the Irish playwright Frank McGuiness, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre. The play is about a disgraced former banker, who did five years in prison for embezzlement and who has spent the past eight years in his home, estranged from his cold, angry wife, who blames him for the disgrace of the family name. Out of the blue, the wife’s sister shows up. It turns out, she is a wealthy woman who bought the Borkman home at auction after the trial and has allowed her sister, Borkman and their son to live there. It also turns out that she figured prominently in the bad choices Borkman made, and she now wants pay-back.

The play’s a little creaky in places; but still, it’s a real corker – particularly as here staged by James Macdonald on a set, by Tom Pye, which looks like a house set on a frozen pond framed by huge snow drifts of the sort with which we have been afflicted the past couple of weeks. Fiona Shaw and Lindsay Duncan are magnificent as the two warring sisters, and Alan Rickman is tragically pathetic as Borkman, who paces back and forth alone upstairs, in total denial of his crimes, hoping to think of some way to return to power.

WHY is this great play so rarely produced? Perhaps McGuinness solved whatever flaws other versions had. I don’t know. I only know that this production should be at the top of your must-see list.

Eric Henry Sanders’ Reservoir, which has just closed at the Drilling Company, was a modern take on Buchner’s Woyzeck, casting the first great anti-hero of dramatic literature as a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder. Alessandro Colla was both chilling and heartbreaking as the Woyzeck character, here named Pvt. Frank Hasek. I also enjoyed the sensitive performance by Karla Hendrick, as a psychiatrist who tries to save the doomed Hasek. Hamilton Clancy’s production was bare-bones but his work with the actors was excellent, with the exception of the actor who played a buddy of Hasek’s, also probably suffering from PTSD, who appeared to think he was in a movie, as he spoke so faintly that he was largely unintelligible.

Aside from these quibbles, though, this was a terrific production of a powerful play. Sorry you missed it.

Dracula, a revival of the John Balderstone and Hamilton Deane potboiler based on Bram Stoker’s classic chiller-diller novel, at the Little Shubert Theatre, has also closed. The reviews were pretty dreadful, and were by and large deserved. It would have taken a much more stylish and inventive approach to make this clunky old play hold the stage today, which was way beyond the ability of director Paul Alexander and his mostly inadequate cast led by Italian actor Michel Altieri, awkwardly swooping around in the title role. There were a few good moments, many of them supplied by John Buffalo Mailer as an Americanized Renfield, but for the most part this was painful to watch and is deservedly gone.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why is this gem of a theatre booked so rarely? The official explanation is that the economics of Off Broadway tanked shortly after the theatre was built. So sayeth the Shubert Organization, which built and operates the theatre. My guess is that the real reason is that the “The Shuberts” charge way too much for the use of this theatre. Apparently, they would rather it be dark than rented at a lower rate. It’s a real shame.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

A SMALL FIRE. Playwrights Horizons, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

PANTS ON FIRE’S METAMORPHOSIS. Flea Theatre, 41 White St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111

JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN. Harvey Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn.

TICKETS: 718-636-4100

RESERVOIR. Drilling Company. Alas, closed

DRACULA. Little Shubert Theatre. Closed.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will

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