WILLIAMSTOWN -- David Hyde Pierce isn't looking to reinterpret Oscar Wilde's quintessential comedy of manners, "The Importance of Being Earnest," even though his Williamstown Theatre Festival directorial debut re-envisions the cast with the brash New York City gangster accents of "Guys and Dolls."
"Our goal is to give the audience the play; shake it loose from the way we're all used to hearing it and all expecting it," Pierce said Tuesday night during a press event at the Williams Inn. "Our goal is after five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you will forget the concept and everything else and be reminded what a great play it is -- which we often forget."
"The Importance of Being Earnest," the first production on the theatre festival's Main Stage this summer, starring Tyne Daly (television's "Cagney and Lacy") as Lady Bracknell, opens Thursday, June 28, and runs through July 14.
Pierce, who made his directorial debut last fall with the musical production "It Shoulda Been You" at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., said the concept for the unusual production came to him while reading Wilde's works.
"It came from hearing Damon Runyon's voice in Oscar Wilde's characters," he said. "Damon Runyon, who wrote ‘Guys and Dolls,' and more importantly wrote all the short stories that [it's] based on, created the particular way of speaking -- New York City gangster. I discovered when you read a Damon Runyon
But the actor, who earned four Emmy Awards during his 11 years playing Niles Crane on NBC's "Frasier," also knew if he had to change the dialogue, he wouldn't do the play.
"I've cut, but I haven't changed the dialogue," Pierce said. "And 98 percent of what I have cut, I would have cut if I was doing a traditional version of this play."
After convincing WTF Artistic Director Jenny Gersten to do the play in February -- a single reading was all it took -- he headed to London, where Daly was performing in the play "Master Works," not really anticipating she would have the time to even consider the production.
"I was already planning this, and so I told her the story of how we were doing this and I saw her eyes light up," he said. "For this particular concept, it is unbelievable how perfect she is for the role. After seeing this production, I'd also say that for a more traditional production, she'd also be perfect. But it was a match made in heaven."
Tickets for "The Importance of Being Earnest," at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., can be purchased online at www.wtfestival.org, by phone at 413-597-3400 or in person at the box office.
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