By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 40 minutes with two intermissions
Oscar Wilde is probably one of the most prolific and controversial authors of his day and, in some instances, today, but there’s no denying his talent as his works are still being produced today, worldwide. He certainly had a knack for comedy as well as a sharp wit that subtly poked fun at the class system of his time but in such a way that it was nothing but charming. Everyman Theatre treats us to one of his more popular works, The Importance of Being Earnest, Directed by Joseph W. Ritsch, and they’ve masterfully presented this piece in a way that, I assume, Wilde would have been proud and tickled pink.
Ina nutshell, The Importance of Being Earnest deals with a young man, Jack, who has invented a man named Earnest,to live a secret, care-free life in town while handling serious responsibilities at home, in the country. Because of a forgotten cigarette case, he is forced to confess this farce to his dear friend, Algernon, another aloof young man who makes it a point to avoid any type of social situation. Two women, Gwendolen and Cecily, are in love with Earnest while the two young men are in love with them. Throw in a cranky, snobbish old Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell) into the mix and you’ve got great fodder for a comedy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to Set Design, Everyman Theatre never disappoints and Daniel Ettinger has not broken this streak. With Three Acts, Ettinger’s innovative design has taken us from a bachelor’s living room, to an English country garden, to the study of a grand English manor and he hits the nail on the head with every location. The genius is the simple presentation of specific locations that is consistent throughout in color and style. Kudos to Ettinger for a job well done.
Adding to the appropriate late Victorian age setting, Costume Design by David Burdick is inspiring and eye-catching in this production. He has an impeccable eye for detail and every actor was individual in their wardrobe because of that detail. For example, there is a distinct differentiation in fashion between the elder generation from which Aunt Augusta hails and the younger generation of Gwendolyn and Cecily and though the difference is subtle, it’s enough to be just noticeable enough which is brilliant. Another splendid job from David Burdick.
Joseph W. Ritsch takes the helm of this production and it’s crystal clear he has a deep comprehension of this material and text and his vision presents it easily to a 21st century audience. His staging is energized and the pacing is on point for a three act piece. More importantly, Ritsch’s grasp on the sharp wit and comedy of Oscar Wilde shines through in every moment of this production. Casting is splendid and he masterfully guides this ensemble to present a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, but true look at the upper class of Victorian England. Ritsch is to be commended and applauded for his telling of this wonderful production.
As for the performance aspect of this production, this entire, small ensemble give full effort and work well together, respectfully bringing to life Wilde’s text seemingly effortlessly. In supporting by important roles are Wil Love as Rev. Canon Chasuble and Helen Hedman as Miss Prism. Love is lovable as the jovial Chasuble and portrays him appropriately as a well-meaning gentleman who wants to help though he seems oblivious to the farce around him. He’s confident in the role and gives a very good showing. Almost as a counterpart to Love’s Chasuble, Helen Hedman pulls of the role of Miss Prism, the stuffy, older governess, beautifully. For playing such a straight-forward, stringent character, her comedic timing is spot on and she has a good grasp on her character and the conflict between her current piety and checkered pass. Both of these actors fit nicely in their characters and give strong performances.
A highlight in this production is Carl Schurr in the dual roles of Lane and Merriman,the hapless servants of the other well-to-do characters of this piece. Schurr gives an exquisite performance in this supporting role and makes a mark on this production. His comedic timing is near-perfect, especially as the older, feeble Merriman with slight but hilarious physical comedy that will have you laughing in the aisles. He’s certainly one to watch and he gives a believable, funny, and strong performance.
Taking on the roles of the lovey young ladies of interest in this piece are Paige Hernandez as Cecily Cardew and Katie Kleiger as Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax. Both actresses perform these roles eloquently and confidently and are a pleasure to watch. Hernandez emotes the youth and vivaciousness of a caged young woman coming of age and delivers the dialogue with ease and authenticity while Kleiger is comfortable in role as the upper-class, free-spirited young woman with a domineering mother and performs her character with grace and confidence as is required. The chemistry between Hernandez and Kleiger is splendid as they transition their roles within minutes from strangers to rivals to friends and because of their understanding of their characters, it makes for brilliant performances from both.
As for the scheming, dandy young gentlemen, Danny Gavigan takes on the role of Algernon Moncrieff, a self-proclaimed bachelor who shies away from social gatherings, and Jaysen Wright tackles the role of John Worthing, a gentle man with a double identity, one of who is the infamous Earnest. Gavigan gives a stellar performance as Algernon Moncrieff and seems to embody Oscar Wilde himself (or how I think Oscar Wilde would have behaved, anyway) and his delivery of the dialogue is impeccable. Smooth and almost swarmy, he portrays the role with just the correct recipe of charm with a dash of obnoxiousness that is absolutely appropriate for this character. Wright also plays his character,John Worthing, to the hilt and emotes charm and likability. Both Gavigan and Wright tackle these roles seemingly effortlessly with personality and charisma making for strong, confident performances from both.
The hands-down standout of this production is Bruce Randolph Nelson as Lady Bracknell. I’ve mentioned in a recent review that, for some reason, when it comes to theatre (especially older pieces) audiences seem to eat up anything with a man in drag and this production seems to be no different. The trick is, and what makes Nelson’s performance so commendable is the fact that, though he is playing for laughs – it’s a comedy, after all – he’s still taking the part seriously.He’s not playing a man pretending to be a woman, but he’s playing a woman and it’s the gravity he puts into the role that makes it hilarious. Not to mention, Nelson is a genius when it comes to comedic timing, expressions, and reactions and you will regret missing him in this role. He’s comfortable in the role and pulls it off with grace, dignity, and confidence. He’s a riot and had me laughing well after the house lights came on.
Final thought… The Importance of Being Earnest at Everyman Theatre is a fast-paced, well put-together production that is side-splittingly funny and you don’t want to miss it. Oscar Wilde really knew how to turn a phrase and this ensemble knows how to deliver them. From the glorious Set Design to the impeccable Costume Design, to the masterful wit of Wilde, one can’t help but be amazed and amused by this production. Don’t let the fact that this piece is over 100 years old (premiering in 1895), because the story and the comedy are timeless and it still tickles audiences today. If you see anything this season,make sure you make it out to this one!
Thisis what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Importance of Being Earnest will play through December 30 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W Fayette Street,Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.
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