THEATER | Oscar Wilde and Theatre Arlo: A match made in Iowa (after the mandatory 30-day period of residence)


Matthew Foster, producer of Theatre Arlo‘s The Importance of Being Earnest, does publicity for the Minnesota Fringe Festival; his experience there paid off in the press release for Earnest, a single attention-grabbing sentence promising to tell Oscar Wilde’s classic story “as it was meant to be told: really, really, extremely gay.”

This Earnest is billed as “The Bros Before Hos Remix,” and “remix” is an appropriate term for what this troupe have done with Wilde’s work. The basic premise, many of the plot points, and much of the original dialogue remain the same; the “remix” transplants the story from Victorian England to the Twin Cities circa 2009 and plays up the suggestion of an amorous relationship between Ernest (excuse me, Butch; Mike Postle) and Algernon (Kevin McLaughlin). In fact, this production entirely deletes the characters of Gwendolen and Cecily, replacing the male leads’ romances with those two women with a proposed marriage between the two guys. If this sounds like something it’s hard to imagine Lady Bracknell approving of, you haven’t seen Theatre Arlo’s Bracknell (Zoe Benston)—a Congresswoman who resembles Michele Bachmann right down to the Martini habit and the S&M fetish. Miss Prism is transformed into a flamboyant spa attendant played by James Napoleon Stone, who seems to have based his character on Hank Azaria’s Birdcage pool boy and provides some of the show’s funniest moments with his ambiguously accented readings of Wilde’s lines.

the importance of being earnest, presented through october 25 at the bryant-lake bowl, 810 w. lake st., minneapolis. for tickets ($12) and information, see

The production is a romp in the best sense of the word, a loose caper that feels largely improvised. The production’s creators must have known that their production would provide a welcome contrast to the Guthrie’s traditional take—but I don’t imagine they realized that they’d be beating the Big Blue at its own game. The Guthrie team try to rock the boat with a few risqué line readings and some pink flowers so manifestly vulvic that they’re almost educational, but they draw the line at replacing Earnest’s engraved cigarette case with an engraved cock ring. The Arlo players vault across that line and, when faced with the question of whether or not to make explicit reference to Mr. Bracknell’s erectile dysfunction, keep right on jogging.

My review: if the idea of remixing Earnest to make it “really, really, extremely gay” sounds to you even the least bit amusing, you’ll enjoy this production. What would Wilde think? I imagine he’d go to the Guthrie production, shake a few hands, then cash his royalty check and spend it on cocktails at the Bryant-Lake Bowl while enjoying the Theatre Arlo version.

On my way out the door I ran into Foster, who proudly told me that he now owns the complete run of a certain cult-classic sitcom on DVD, and he’s able to take the purchase price as a tax write-off. Why? Because it’s research for the next Theatre Arlo production. This year the Guthrie is streamlining its annual holiday show and making it more accessible; again, Theatre Arlo is doing Joe Dowling one better. I’ll see you at the BLB next month for A Christmas Carol: The Golden Girls Remix.