The Impotence of Being Earnest
nytheatre.com review by Seth Duerr
August 24, 2006
A great seething anthill was the Triangle Club. It gave a musical comedy every year, traveling with cast, chorus, orchestra, and scenery all through the Christmas vacation. The play and music were the work of undergraduates, and the club itself was the most influential of institutions...
Those are the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald describing Princeton University's Triangle Club of 1914-1915. The Triangle Club is the oldest collegiate musical comedy troupe in the nation, and the only college group that creates an original, student-written musical each year that is presented on a national tour.
Regrettably, if Mr. Fitzgerald were alive today, I think he'd be pretty disappointed after seeing The Impotence of Being Earnest, the club's offering in this year's Fringe Festival.
With only a 60-minute running time (thankfully), The Impotence of Being Earnest is probably not the most trying show at the Festival. That said, with 214 shows to choose from, I wouldn't recommend it.
There are 20 scenes, either sketches or songs, all with a political agenda that thinks itself informed, cutting, and progressive; but in reality is flabby, sagging, and sophomoric. The show assays meaningful discussion about truth, bureaucracy, education, career goals, privacy rights, learning from history, identity politics, the entertainment industry, spiritual guidance, respecting your elders, high art, crime, moral values, health, tolerance, diversity, and international relations. It is highly improbable to succeed at this on any one of those subjects in an hour, let alone all of them. It may be possible, but this particular show doesn't live up to the task.
The music of the 15-writer team is not poorly composed, though the book and lyrics need intensive help. Many sour notes came from Erica Greil's obsolete keyboard and several of the singers' shot-out voices. With only five shows in the Fringe, I wonder how any of them will fare should they be cast in an eight-show per week production after graduation. That said, there were some exceptions: Kelvin Dinkins' rich baritone fills the theatre, and he fares well in a scene about reverse racism; Sara-Ashley Bischoff has a spectacular song and dance number about natives of Latvia; and Eve Glazer completely steals the show by playing the shofar beyond anyone's wildest dreams (no one actually dreams about such things, but they probably will now)—it was an incredibly welcome surprise amidst an otherwise dull evening.
Frankly, the Triangle Club should not be discouraged from following in the footsteps of previous incarnations, such as were praised by Mr. Fitzgerald. However, praise cannot be strewn in their footpath like petals down a wedding aisle just because they are part of an educational institution and we're supposed to support them no matter what. I left the theatre wondering how their professors and Club supervisors could let them go on stage with work this sub-par.