In essaying a “play for trivial people,” Tom Jacobson has delivered a seriously clever metatheatrical comedy and an unexpectedly moving ode to the mysterious powers of art and love in “Bunbury.” With this superb Road Theater Company world-premiere production, Jacobson’s antic yet humane wit harpoons some of the biggest leviathans in the theatrical sea, from Wilde to Chekhov to Albee, with an impressive range and a nimble touch that recalls the young Tom Stoppard. Director Mark Bringelson keeps things deft and light, benefiting from an excellent production team and a protean cast that seems to be having a great time.
The story begins with the eponymous Bunbury (Sean Wing), a young gentleman of leisure, lightly insulting the character of Rosaline (Ann Noble) in “Romeo and Juliet” as being nothing but a bit of offstage business, a figure Shakespeare didn’t even deem worthy of an appearance. He is then quite surprised when she indignantly appears in the flesh to defend her good name.
He is flabbergasted, however, to discover he himself is a “subfictional” character created by his friend and lover Algernon (Zach Dulli) as a convenient alibi to escape London at his whim.
Frustrated by their insignificance, Bunbury and Rosaline team up to alter their respective stories — from the Bard’s famed romance to “The Importance of Being Earnest,” from which both Bunbury and Algernon spring — and end up creating a ripple effect that influences all of literature.
What once was buried between the buns of Wilde’s subtext as homosexual undercurrents has now sprung forth like the lead character’s wandlike lily as a gay love story, and Wing embodies all the elements of the lead role splendidly. He delivers the requisite arch wit and stylish remove of a character from “Earnest,” the anarchic glee of a tour guide lightening up the dourest scenes in theater — sending the three sisters promptly on their way to Moscow — and ultimately a matured and earnest love for Algernon that adds a sweet heart to the piece.
Noble is wonderful as the more cautious Rosaline, in a fully committed perf that adds great energy to the play, and Dulli is subtle and fine as the lover/creator whom Bunbury cannot quite reach.
Most of the fun in this play comes from the tweaking of the classics, and the cast members — most of whom play multiple roles — excel at bringing these scenes to hilarious life. Stephanie Stearns is amusing as Cecily and Juliet, but her Blanche (from “A Streetcar Named Desire”) is fantastic: an adaptable Southern belle who avoids having to depend on the kindness of strangers. Peggy Billo is suitably imperious as Lady Bracknell and screechily right as Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Michael Dempsey stands out with a touching perf as the older and wiser Algernon at the play’s satisfying conclusion.
Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set is appropriately surreal, and it combines with Henry Sume’s lighting and David B. Marling’s sound design to provide a delightful “Through the Looking Glass” vibe.