An Earnest Dish of Victorian Wit

Has it been a while since you’ve relished cozying up with an old classic? Then perhaps you’d like to come with me up the grand staircase at HPU’s Windward campus and nestle into a seat at the intimate Paul and Vi Loo Theatre. Maybe, while you sit there, you imagine you’re beside a fireplace, or on a trip abroad, taking solace in the comfort of a delightful page-turner. Let the warm rush of that well-told story embrace you as it materializes before your eyes.

Lacey Chu, Duncan Dalzell, Mitch Milan, Sara Cate Langham and Richard Bragdon

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Lacey Chu, Duncan Dalzell, Mitch Milan, Sara Cate Langham and Richard Bragdon. Photo courtesy of Malia Leinau Photography

On current display is The Importance of Being Earnest. As the intrigue of Jack/John-cum-Earnest, his romance with the fair Gwendolen, his friendship with the rakish Algernon and his troubled acquaintance with the disapproving Lady Bracknell unfolds, all the charm of my first reading of Oscar Wilde’s satire on the Victorian establishment comes flooding back. The characters fling delicious strings of dialogue back and forth, with suspenseful twists occurring in even a simple one-liner. Each little spout of verbal jousting leaves you in tingling anticipation, and then the witty punch kicks in and a cosmic sense of divine verbal perfection tingles up your spine. But you don’t want to laugh or clap for fear of missing the next well-projected barb.

Any misgivings about a man playing the commanding Lady Bracknell, and turning this farce too farcical, melts instantly with Mitchell Milan’s portrayal. Pointed in diction and features, with uppity Victorian carriage and a pair of expressively alert eyes – when he exits the stage, you feel his absence. Costume designers Lacy Hansen and Peggy Krock must have had a few great chuckles adding the flourishes to Bracknell’s outfits, particularly those confectionary hats.

Act 1 is mostly plot introductions, with the flow and action picking up in the latter half. There’s nothing like a 19th century catfight between two handsome, well-bred young women who just discovered they may be vying for the affections of the same man. The dressed up insults hurled by Gwendolen (Sara Cate Langham) and Cecily (Lacey Perrine Chu), each better than the last, makes you lament at the sore dearth of intellectually insulting vocabulary at the disposal of pissed-off youths today. Langham and Chu are both beautiful and a joy to watch, and their male counterparts, Duncan Dalzell as Algernon and Richard Bragdon as Jack, carry this muted comedy along swimmingly. What a pleasure seeing an old classic excellently rendered.

the TICKET stub


When: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. through May 6
Where: Paul and Vi Loo Theatre at HPU
Cost: $25 general (discounts for students, seniors, military)
More Info: 375-1282

In Step With HIFF

Of the dance documentaries that have come through the film festival circuit, First Position, playing at HIFF (April 17, 6 p.m.; April 18, 3 p.m.), is the most engrossing. It’s a window into an extreme competition that isn’t built on sensationalism and oddballs (except for one exotically zany French instructor). Though classical ballet rings of privilege – tutus with price tags of $2,000 and trips to competitions – the cross-section of students portrayed here upend any stereotype.

A tear traces its way down 14-year-old Michaela’s cheek as she recalls the horrors of Sierra Leone where her parents were shot to death before she was adopted into a U.S. family. A picture of a triumphant ballerina kept her hopeful through the difficult years. Now that she’s pursuing the discipline herself, she’s discovered classical ballet doesn’t favor blacks. Many hours are spent dying undergarments and costume pieces a deep brown, because none come in that color.

In contrast, there’s a “Barbie” girl, all pink-themed and blond, with a princess room and just the right sinewy torso, but something about the way her body twists into the most unnatural angles makes her endearing.

We watch a Colombian boy’s determined face as he listens to his parents on the phone reminding him that he’s in America to work hard, the family’s hopes of rising above their impoverished, rural surroundings, rests on his young, athletic shoulders.

Another young boy shows us his room with its trucks and typical boy’s toys, but there’s also equipment reminiscent of medieval torture meant for flexing the foot and limbering the limbs. These dancers endure hours of daily body-breaking work with injuries that rival those of any major sport, and feet that have seen layers upon layers of blisters and scabs.

The six children featured in the film are among 5,000 of the finest young ballet dancers in the world, gearing up for the semifinals of the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition. The selection is narrowed to only 300 for the finals in New York, with the crème de la crème receiving scholarships and job offers from elite ballet schools.

Much of the drama is in what’s left unsaid: the expression of competitors as they watch one teacher stretch a student seemingly beyond his earthly limits, a quirky boy and girl duo who are at once mini virtuosos onstage but become gangly little springbucks goofing around when they’re offstage, the quiet, introspective torment of one boy who just bombed out in front of the judges, and the eerie dynamic of a well-adjusted hapa girl mastering her Spanish-themed number under the gaze of her overly obsessive Japanese mother. Ballet, alone, is grueling, and each of these children maintains such grace despite a range of additional tribulations.

HIFF’s Spring Showcase ( features more than 30 international films April 13-19 at Dole Cannery.