Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

story by a famous writer sounds like a good idea. But when the story itself is not one of that author’s best (that may be the reason that it is so obscure) the adapter is likely to face credibility issues with the script.

The short story in question is Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime. In it, Oscar Wilde mocks frauds and confidence tricksters in the “fate” industry (palm readers, telepathists, spiritualists) and takes a tongue-in-cheek look at a gentleman’s approach to doing his duty. Wilde follows the pattern perfected in his classic comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, written four years later in 1895, making much of the insignificant and minimizing the value of important matters. The approach is just does not as effective in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.

U.S. playwright Rob Urbinati takes the key points from the short story, together with the occasional piece of Wilde’s dialogue, to create West Moon Street and deliver a comic look at a young aristocrat who, after being warned by a palm reader that he is to become a murderer, decides that his duty is to get the mandatory killing off the books before marrying his fiancée.

Urbinati goes one step further than Wilde by making the society hostess who introduces the palm reader to Lord Arthur almost as evil as the marquise in Dangerous Liaisons. This, combined with the inefficiency of Arthur’s attempts at murder, results in silliness on the edge of farce and melodramatic nonsense rather than stylish comedy.

The Kanata Theatre production, directed by Wendy Wagner, attempts to stay true to the tone set by the playwright, but the basic premise of the material and some of the performances, which betray too slight a knowledge of the period and too little comfort with it, are not strong enough to keep an audience involved.

Those in the cameo roles, particularly Liane Freedman as Lady Clem and Gordon Walls as Charles, are the most at ease with their characterizations. Sandy Wynne, usually a reliable performer, is too one-note in her “archness” and a repeated tilt of the head in the key role of the wicked Lady Windermere.

The most enjoyable aspects of the production are the visuals. Karl Wagner’s two-level set is both attractive and workable and Kathryn Clarke’s and Marilyn Valiquette’s costumes (even the intentionally ugly one) are a delight.

But appealing as its look is, West Moon Street cannot be said to offer Wilde theatrical enjoyment.

West Moon Street continues at Kanata Theatre to October 1, 2011.

Ottawa, Iris Winston

Thursday Sept. 21, 2011