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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Importance of Being Thought Fashionable

Style, elegance, wit, youth and beauty. Combine them more or less coherently and the result can't help but please. That is the chief principle behind the Fomenko Studio's new production of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," which could easily have been retitled "The Importance of Being Fashionable, Come Hell or High Water."

Still, this "theatrical demonstration" held at the Zaitsev House of Fashion works on the whole. You might even say it works in spite of itself. How else can you explain its undeniable attraction as it runs roughshod over Wilde's spectacular verbal fireworks?

Wilde's send-up of the conventions of farce and melodrama lampoons the refined manners of polite society and celebrates its intrigues. Its plot of romances, fueled and frustrated by concealed identities, achieves a happy resolution when the society lioness, Lady Bracknell, unexpectedly identifies the orphan, John Worthing. He had been masquerading as an Ernest in order to win the hand of Lady Bracknell's daughter, Gwendolen.

These and other complications are but a divine excuse to show off the famous cascades of Wilde witticisms.

But director Yevgeny Kamenkovich poured a good deal of the bubbles out of Wilde's champagne before serving it.

His young actors' rapid-fire speech could not be further from the spirit of the original. It creates the impression that the players themselves do not always understand what they are up to, and it leaves none of the open air that is the life force of humor. Some of the actors are plain tongue-tied, and there is nothing less witty than a fumbled punch line.

And then there is the setting of the runway in the surprisingly bland demonstration hall at Zaitsev's fashion salon. The actors either pose statically or parade back and forth before the audience, not because the action requires it, but because that is how they best show off Dmitry Cholak's gorgeous and wildly outrageous costumes.

At the premi?re, Zaitsev himself gazed on happily.

And indeed, despite the flaws and ragged seams, there is still enough elegance, beauty and youthful energy here to make a very pleasant evening of theater.

Most responsible for that are the utterly charming Ksenia Kutepova, who plays Gwendolen, and the comically urbane Yury Stepanov, as Worthing's gaudily rakish friend, Algernon. Both have a splendid, instinctive feel for the nuances and pastel shadings of comedy that usually remains sensible even in the shallow surroundings.

More monotone, but still effective, are Madlen Dzhabrailova, who gives a pert performance of Algernon's sweetheart, Cecily, and Galina Tyunina, whose vampish Miss Prism is both Cecily's governess and the reason why Worthing became an orphan 28 years ago. Dzhabrailova is especially good when she and Kutepova both suddenly think they are courting the same man.

Kutepova's twin sister, Polina, plays a heavily mannered, mannequin-like Lady Bracknell, while Rustem Yuskayev, winning smile aside, creates a relentlessly incoherent Worthing.

This is the Fomenko Studio's first professional outing. It was formed last fall around a group of graduating students, and it continues to perform its uneven repertoire of student productions.

One wonders why its famed artistic director, Pyotr Fomenko -- who has staked his name to the studio -- delegated the honor of first production to another? Whatever his reasons, the results are mixed.

This "Earnest" occasionally impresses as an amateur show dressed in expensive clothes. On the other hand, it also proves that a few sparks of talent can cast a lot of light. To the studio's credit, that is the most lasting impression.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" (Kak Vazhno Byt Seryoznym), a production of the Fomenko Studio, plays Feb. 17, 24, March 4, 10, 17 and 18 at 7 P.M. at the Zaitsev House of Fashion, 21 Prospekt Mira. Tel. 248-9074. Running Time: 3 hours.