Tag Archives: Carlos Stafford

The Floor Is Your Friend: The Model Critic Reviews

Zena Rommett–Floor–Barre Technique–For Teachers
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Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Zena Rommett, movement techniquies, rehabilitation, floor-barre
 City Center, NYC, recently hosted a teacher’s training program for the Zena Rommett Floor–Barre Technique. Teachers, and those wanting to be certified, came from many places on the globe to review their methods and to learn anew. The morning I attended, master teacher Charlotte Furst from Sweden gave a very clear and calm class to attentive students.
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Zena Rommett Floor–Barre Technique has been with us for almost fifty years. A former ballerina, Ms. Rommett first taught her methods at the Joffrey School of American Ballet; the technique essentially gives ballet dancers barre training on the floor, thereby eliminating the intrusion of gravity and balance in developing neurological pathways in the body.
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Ballet, and dance in general, requires certain physical necessities– alignment, turnout,  and lengthening, for example.  Tendu’s, coupe’s, passe’s, and degage’s with pointed or flexed feet can be slowly practiced on the floor to give the dancer the desired placement.
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I sat and watched class with Camille Rommett, Zena’s gracious daughter who heads up the Foundation.  Camille schooled me on some of the finer points as the class progressed, and told me that Zena always gave dancers what they needed, not what she knew. They never use the term “stretch” as I inadvertently spoke, but preferred the term, lengthening, as in the spine, back of the legs, and arms.
The devotee’s since the 1960’s have continued to be enthusiastic, and the technique has been a favorite of many past and present stars: Judith Jamison, Lars Lubovitch, Tommy Tune, and Patrick Swayze, to name a few luminaries. At present, Camille said this method is being taught worldwide, and on numerous colleges campuses and national dance studios.  Next month they’ll offer another teacher’s training in Florence, Italy.
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Basically, while working slowly on the floor, nothing is set to chance.  At the barre, things may move quickly and the student may get used to working improperly, and develop bad habits; on the floor there is a lack of tension, and without music, the dancer, along with an aware teacher, can focus of his or her needs.  Incidentally, this technique has been used  as a rehabilitation method for those who have injuries too. It’s easy to see how effective this method would be for someone who has had a knee or ankle injury, for example, and wants to activate and strengthen those areas.
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Camille also said that Zena emphasized transitions as well. Having been a ballerina, she well understood the necessity of linking movements together with proper alignment. Ms. Furst underscored this by coaxing the students to relax during their movements, not to struggle, and to become more fluid, with a strong center and relaxed face.
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For those who don’t have studios nearby that offer these classes, many DVD’s are available for the young dancer, the professional, elders, and injured.  I’m a convert, and consider this technique very valuable for dancers and non-dancers alike.  Why would anybody not want the effects of a longer, stronger, and balanced body?
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The Model Critic Reviews: La Bayadere, American Ballet Theatre

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Three Steps To Heaven
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In the Second Act of La Bayadere, in Hindu India, Solar reclines in sorrow, smokes his opium pipe, and dreams of his dead lover, Nikiya.  As he falls into a dream vision–The Kingdom of Shades–harp strings lead us into his subconscious world.  Then, the first of thirty-two shades, or spirits, appear as from the clouds;  plie arabesque, cambre, port du bras repeated in timeless unison growing whiter and whiter as light suffuses and overcomes darkness. In a word, the dancers create an impression, mesmerizing and sublime, that is one of the most iconic exerpts in classical ballet.
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In 1877, the genius of classical ballet choreography, Marius Petipa, first unveiled La Bayadere in Imperial Russia. It has been considered one of his finest achievements in an illustrious career that included the best of the best for this Frenchman:  Le Corsaire, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Cinderella, Raymonda, and of course, the great Swan Lake.  All these works, and many others of his, fill dance theatres all over the world on any evening, and have become the ethos of ballet itself, today and perhaps forever.
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La Bayadere is a narrative ballet about the love affair between Solar, a warrior, and Nikiya, a temple dancer (Bayadere) in exotic, ancient India. But their love is thwarted by the High Brahmin who also declares his love for Nikiya, but is rejected by her. The Radjah Dugumanta wants Solar to marry his daughter Gamzatti, but finds that he is already in love with Nikiya.  Both he and the Brahmin collude to kill to Nikiya. Solar must marry Gamzatti.
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La Bayadere then becomes a eternal story of love, jealousy, revenge, and eventually, cosmic reconciliation. It has sometimes been compared to Verdi’s opera Aida, especially the ending, the triangular love affair, an exotic locale, but these prove to be loose comparisons, and reflect the cultural developments and tastes of the era more than anything else.
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David Hallberg, back from Russia, where he was made principal dancer at the Boshoi, a first ever for an American, brilliantly danced the role of Solar.  Nikiya was flawlessly danced by Paolina Semionova from St. Petersberg–the place where the first La Bayadere was originally performed; so you could say the production was infused with a genuine Russian spirit.  This, added the fact that this version was conceived of and directed by the great Natalia Makarova, made everything even more compelling.
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Hallberg now appears to be a more mature artist; his acting ability and mime, noble and tastefully restrained, always promising more in his glowingly fluid movement.  He seems to float when he is airborne, and always lands lightly, composed, and clear in his transitions. He seems to be made for classicism, as his abilities are textbook clear and delightfully executed. With so many stars retiring this year–Maxim Beloserkovsky, Angel Corella, and Ethan Stiefel– Hallberg will no doubt be a busy dancer.
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Paolina Semionova was astonishing throughout, and was most effective in the famous “basket dance.” Solar is forced into marrying Gamzatti, the Radjah’s daughter, and Nikiya is ordered to dance at the betrothal celebration. To render this complex and pathetic moment, a dancer must live a multiplicity of emotions as she dances before her lost love: confusion, disbelief, sorrow, as she dances sensually before the gathering.
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Semionova captures all the complexities with her arching back, expressive arms, and slow slides into the floor while the delicate Minkus score underscores the pathos. Ingrid Bergman, 20th century actress, could achieve this dramatic life on screen, and this was a moving likeness in dance.
 During Nikiya’s dance, a basket of flowers is presented to her.  Thinking it a gift from Solar, and a secret sign of fidelity, her mood brightens, and life is breathed into her movements, she has a reason to believe.  But in her joy, she buries her head into the flowers, and a serpent strikes out and bites her in the neck. The conspirators succeed.  An antidote is offered by the Bhramin, she refuses, as sees Solar and Gamzatti depart. She would rather die than live without Solar, and collapses.
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Earlier in the week, Veronika Part and Marcello Gomes danced the leads to equal effectiveness.  Part, long limbed, with beautiful arched feet and wonderful line danced with passion and precision.  Gomes always a devoted and stellar partner added with his precise technique and powerful sensitive presence.  Gamzatti was danced by Gillian Murphy–confident, strong, full of attack and perfect energy. Seo, as Gamzatti with Hallberg was more lyrical, airy, without the punch of Murphy, but again very expressive in her pas de duex, with beautiful quality.
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Finally, at the wedding ceremony at the temple, with a great Buddha statue presiding, we have a show stopping dance–the Bronze Idol.  Daniel Simkin on Tuesday, and Joseph Phillips on Saturday.  Both had bravura performances and were electrifying in their stylized leaps.
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The ceremony is solemn. Solar is going to the alter but sees images of Nikiya as a shade, and falls into remorse. Nikiya’s spirit, dressed is white, enters and departs, spinning and leaping through the proceedings, as the beautiful candle dance is created by sixteen bayaderes. As in a serenade, and music to match, they
surround the couple with crooked arms and flexed hands holding candles aloft. As Gamzatti lures Solar to the alter, a shade enters with a basket of flowers that was used to kill her rival, reminding Solar once again of the evil transgressions.  As he approaches the alter, as if going to the guillotine, the rare contrast between beauty, sadness, and remorse is struck.
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But nature, the gods, do not want this ending. As the Bhramin orders the couple to take their vows, the temple is destroyed, and in the apotheosis, Nikiya emerges from the destruction with a white coil of ribbon
that Solar catches as they eternally ascend together, united at last.
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Praise all around:  For Petipa, for Ludwig Minkus’ score, for Natalia Makarova’s staging, to the truly world class dancers, and even the maestro of both evenings–Charles Barker–who worked wonderfully with the dancers both evenings. La Bayadere is a study in Romantic Classicism, with many music and dance styles, groups of varying sizes, classic partnering, and exotic costumes and sets.  We have Imperial Russia to thank for this exquisite artistic production–a nod to the accomplishments of Aristocracy–and to the astonishing talent of our 21st Century World.
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A little bit more on David Hallberg (video)

The Model Critic Reviews Ellison Ballet

Erez Milatin in

Erez Milatin in “Last Man”, choreography by Jason Ambrose

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Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
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The Ellison Ballet Spring Showcase 2012 had a rousing performance last Saturday night at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center.  In an evening of classical and contemporary ballet, the students delivered a pleasing amalgam of well-chosen pieces that showcased their remarkable abilities.
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A sampling of romantic duets to music by Chopin opened the program–Waltz, Scherzo, Minute Waltz, and Nocturne –with nuanced and delicate partnering. Sara Ezzell–David Hochberg, Sarah Tryon–Jason Ambrose, and Lauren Archer-Louis Picuira-de Pimodan painted beautiful languorous and evocative shapes in Nocturne, while the men in their solos, and ensemble work were outstanding in the Finale–bold and confident.  All appeared well-rehearsed and sharp in their intentions.
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As the evening proceeded, there were a few brilliant performances. Ka’imi Cambern was technically exacting in the “Variations from Flower Festival at Genzano” executing the difficult Bournonville style with attack and elevation, and added haughtiness. We were also presented with “Variations from Don Quixote,” by Erez-Ben Zion Milatin, who matador straight, bold, and strong, danced with panache.
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But perhaps the best pure dance performance of the evening was by Leonid Khrapunsky, in “If Only.”
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Dance being one of the primal arts was certainly in evidence here. With contemporary choreography to percussion instruments only, Mr. Khrapunsky viscerally interpreted the beats with elemental and animal athleticism;  with a quick tempo, and intense, expressionistic movement encompassing a lightly woven theme and variation, he electrified the audience thoroughly.
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And there was more!  Closing the program was a thoroughly engaging “Gypsy Dance from Don Quixote.”
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Music by Minkus, choreography by Larisa Calero after Marius Petipa, and Gypsy Solo choreography by Kasyan Goleizovsky.  This turned out to be the piece de resistance for the evening.  What was good? Everything. Lauren Archer, the music, guitar solos, sexy costumes, big wild hair with flowers, all added up to a true mood of a gypsy camp; like swans, you can never have too many gypsies.  Everyone likes the myth of the gypsies, and they are found everywhere from India, Romania, to Spain  These were of a Russian variety.
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Lauren Archer provocatively captured the Spanish passion and essence of her character, and danced with wild abandonment as she displayed a flexible, pliant, and expressive body.  The choreography sizzled, and the corps of fellow gypsies were wild and beautiful, as gypsies should be.
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After having seen the Ellison school perform a few seasons ago, I must say the men were stronger and better prepared than ever before.  The women were also sharp and displayed a maturity that was evident, say in “Fan Dance from La Bayadere,” where they all appeared in harmonious unison in another Minkus score.
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In a word, the energy, commitment and dedication all showed through, and one lucky graduate, David Hochberg was accepted into the Sarasota Ballet Company.  Well done and congratulations!
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A lovely reception followed, where dancers, former dancers, instructors, family members and balletomanes socialized after an exciting evening.
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Ellison Dance in Rehearsal:  I LOVE DANCE!
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The Model Critic Reviews The Joffrey Ballet School Performance Company in NYC

Joffrey Ballet Dancer Katie Muesen

~Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic

Dropped by the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center in NYC last week to catch a shared program, WalkingTalking/ Catherine Miller; and the Ariel Rifka Dance, featuring the Joffrey Ballet School Performance Company.
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In a casual atmosphere, without sets, and in a small but packed house, the three groups presented a combination of classical ballet and modern dance pieces that ran the gamut from Gerald Arpino’s 1986 commissioned dance, “Birthday Variations,” to Catherine Miller’s more modern offering,
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All the dances were interesting for highlighting the young performers, and for showcasing the accomplished choreographers.  By far though, the most polished offering was the World Premiere of “Barroco,” by Africa Guzman, a native of Madrid, who in a twenty year career, worked with such luminaries as Maya Plisetskaya, Nacho Duato, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, and Mats Ek. Here, we saw a dance that possessed strong choreographic imagination, surprising transitions, bright, clear shapes and line grounded in a compelling music composition. Mostly, it was exciting to watch the dancers blend with the evocative allegro tempi of  Vivaldi, and then to the slower, romantic guitar solo. The movement was powerful, lyrical, and athletic, but more important graceful, and delivered with intensity and purpose. Lastly, the claret-colored costumes added to the good choices of this sophisticated piece.
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Special mention to Nathaly Prieto, who danced all the dances in  the first half, and once in “Unfurl,” by Catherine Miller, in the remainder of the program.  Showing a wide range of talent and musicality in her busy evening, she was used to best advantage in “Barroco.”
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The second part of the evening was mostly modern with some contemporary ballet elements.  Ariel Grossman’s “Une Nuit,” a New York premiere, was very charming, with an easy grace which, as the piece developed became more hypnotic and compelling.  With five girls in white tunics, combined with the surprise of lime green socks, shorts, and matching headbands, we imagine them having stepped off a Grecian urn to dance with pure joy and natural movement to sounds of  perhaps a Balalayka, then calliope rhythms.
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“Holly,” another small but very honest and personal piece, of hope and prayer, and of saying goodbye, to the beautiful “Four Concerned” ended the evening.  Both these latter pieces had a freedom and beauty beyond technique that was very inspiring.  Sometimes it is a deeper experience to view dance as pure expressive movement, beyond story, detailed construction, and self-consciousness; these dances achieved that feeling for me.
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Still, there was a bit of nostalgia in the air too, for the glory days of the Joffrey Ballet Company when they once wonderfully graced the stage at City Center, before picking up stakes and moving to Chicago.  It was good to see Gerald Arpino’s name in print, and to see a touch of his talent in “Birthday Variations.” It’s not a great dance, pretty simple, but still reminded those of his association with Robert Joffrey, and how they both electrified the dance world with their cutting edge company of youth, athleticism and new ideas–a real American original.  Some of those “shades of forgotten ancestors” permeated this performance, and they are still missed here in New York.  The new students honored that tradition, and will no doubt brighten other companies across America. Everybody, keep dancing!
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The Model Critic Reviews The Sokolow Theater Dance Ensemble

Cunningham Studio, New York, New York
 Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic

Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), iconic modern dance choreographer, whose career vigorously spanned the entire 20th Century; an artist in whose life and times  collaborated with many of the great dancers and choreographers of her era; an artist with deep roots in Israel, Mexico, and the New York dance scene, was honored with a performance of a few of her representative pieces, Nov 14th, at the Cunningham Studio.

Photo Credit: Meems

Before “Odes,” the most important offering of the evening, a short film presented Sokolow working with dancers at Ohio State University, and these asides are loosely recalled:
Words lie, movement never lies.
Steps are important, but what really matters is the mood and the drama created.
I don’t want to be popular.  I don’t want to please everybody.  I want to tell the truth.
Sokolow, above all, wanted her dancers to be committed, to be connected to belief, to seek the most beautiful way of expression.  She also stressed clarity of movement, and definite, strong gestures.
“Odes”–Accompanied by flutist Roberta Michel, and music by Edgard Varese, twenty-three dancers created an intense, highly dramatic mood of terror and dehumanization.  With mechanical blips and bleeps in the soundscape, conveying the interior horrors of a concentration camp, the dancer’s frenzied movements of fear and impending doom created a frightening mood.  The dancer’s total commitment to living the choreography with honesty, belief, and energy made this piece entirely engrossing.
But if you were to deconstruct the choreography from “Odes” and “Two Preludes” which topped the evening’s presentation, the dominant theme would be pain and suffering, nothing light, nothing edifying;  misery, we would find, is the human condition, the overriding motif of these dances.  That Sokolow defined this theme well cannot be denied here; in this sense she accomplished her ends.  In “Two Preludes,” an intimate solo, danced beautifully by long-limbed Melissa Birnbaum, we have a dance created twenty years after “Odes,” but with the same mood, although not as deadly intense:  remorse, loss, internal suffering, contractions to the floor, implosions of energy, fetal postures, head cupping, unsteady footing–everything pointing to imprisonment on being.  The same applied to the personal work of artistic director Jim May, in his solo “Passage” and “At the Still Point of the Turning World” by Ernestine Stodelle–a very literal dance to a poem by T. S. Eliot; both encompassing the very same themes–No Exit.
As you view these dances, you are reminded that as culture evolves, language changes.  The same applies to dance vocabulary–the symbols and images become dated and loose their frisson.  For example, if you see a performance of a Broadway show like “A Chorus Line” today, it reads as refreshingly quaint, and a bit dusty; no modern viewer would believe, for all its merits, that it had won a Pulitzer Prize in its day.  It simply doesn’t speak to today. The same applies with these museum pieces by Anna Sokolow; once relevant, but difficult to watch now.
But most relevant to this performance, is the notion of depressing doom and gloom.  It begins to look like artistic self-indulgence or posing–to have one idea pounding out the nastiness of life, and nothing else. Of course few view the world quite like this, or else we’d all jump into the East River. Finally, we can look at this performance either as a bad choice of programming the pieces of this legendary choreographer, or perhaps as a real glimpse into Sokolow’s concerns as a choreographer.  In either case, it was difficult to watch, not solely because the dance movement did not transcend time, but because the ideas expressed were not balanced.

The Model Critic Reviews: The Importance of Being Ernest

Reviewed by Carlos Stafford
The Model Critic
     The supremely accomplished English actor, Brian Bedford, both directs and acts in this revival of Oscar Wilde’s, The Importance of Being Earnest, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater, in New York City.  It comes here via Des McAnuff’s production in Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Please pass the scones and marmalade, we’re in for a wild ride.
    At a time in Bedford’s career, where he easily could be playing Lear, Cardinals, and Popes, he instead tackles the imperious, supercilious Lady Bracknell, in drag. That the gifted Bedford plays this hefty role, against type and gender, would at first seem distracting. But truly, the moment he first arrives on stage, he creates an immediate suspension of disbelief.  With only his face exposed, dressed in outlandishly beautiful period frocks in colorful silk, wigs, hats, jewels, and eyelashes, he delivers Lady Bracknell’s character with hilarious tartness and aplomb. Playing the character in a ” serious manner,” he confidently never telegraphs, or cajoles the humor, but rather lets the lines resonate on their own, “trippingly on the tongue”. Perfect!
    As far as the play itself, it is easily one of the Greats in modern English drama. The famous Lady Bracknell interview with the suitor, John (Jack) Worthing, for Gwendolen Fairfax’s hand in marriage is brilliant:
                Lady Bracknell:  Do you smoke?
                Jack:  I must admit I smoke.
                LB:  I’m glad to hear it.  A man should always have an occupation of some kind.  There are
                       far too many idle men in London as it is.
                LB:  I have always had the opinion that a man who desires to be married should know everything or nothing.  Which do you know?
                Jack:  I know nothing, Lady Bracknell
                LB:  I am pleased to hear it.  I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.
                       Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory
                       of modern education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at any rate, education
                       produces no effect whatsoever.  If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper
                       classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
                LB:  Are your parents living?
                Jack:  I have lost both my parents.
                LB:  Both?  To loose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both
                       looks like carelessness.
    When Jack reveals that, as a child , he was found in a hang-bag  in Victoria Station, Lady Bracknell delivers her famous “In a hang-bag?” response in a voice so low and aspirated with chagrin and disbelief, that the air fills the entire theater, reaching the usher at the rear in Row ZZZ.
    As for the play itself, Wilde’s clever work cuts in many farcical directions; essentially, a humorous look at the desiccated, starchy manners of English high culture during the Victorian Age, where people don’t say exactly what they mean, have secret agendas, small larcenies, and hidden pasts. For love, both Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing  assume the name of Earnest, while Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, will marry no one but a man called Earnest, creating hilarious entrapments.
    But for all the comedic repartee, verbal badinage, and witty aphorisms, it amounts to nothing but a tempest in a teapot–earnestly pure entertainment, without any real moral or social significance. One leaves the theater refreshed and delighted.  And bringing this all together, along with Bedford, was a fine assemblage of actors–notably Sarah Topham (Gwendolen) and David Furr (Jack Worthing), who were very good, and of course, the reliable Dana Ivey as Miss Prism and Paxton Whitehead as Chasuble.
    I once saw this play done in Killarney,Ireland, in a small pub over pints of Guinness; perhaps twelve people drinking and watching.  One of my partners, not a fan of drama of any sort, had a huge grim on his face throughout. Afterwards, he grabbed my arm and asked again the name of the play, if it wasn’t already obvious, then bought rounds for everyone.
    It would be looked upon as carelessness if you missed this play.
 CAST
 Lane                                Paul O”Brian
Algernon Moncrieff       Santino Fontana
John Worthing               David Furr
Lady Bracknell              Brian Bedford
Gwendolen Fairfax       Sara Topham
Cecily Cardew               Charlotte Parry
Miss Prism                    Dana Ivey
Rev. Chasuble               Paxton Whitehead
Merriman                    Tim MacDonald
Servant                        Amanda Leigh Cobb