Review: The Importance of Being Earnest at Everyman Theatre

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.

L-R: Paige Hernandez, Danny Gavigan, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Carl Schurr, Katie Kleiger, Jaysen Wright, Helen Hedman, Wil Love. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

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.

L-R: Katie Kleiger, Paige Hernandez. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

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.

L-R: Katie Kleiger, Jaysen Wright. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

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.

L-R: Bruce Randolph Nelson, Helen Hedman. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

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.

Danny Gavigan. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

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.

Bruce Randolph Nelson. Photo Credit: Clinton Brandhagen

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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Review: DOT at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
title
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Family. You always love them but sometimes you don’t like them very much and that’s OK. The latest offering from Everyman Theatre, DOT by Coleman Domingo and Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, with Set Design by James Fouchard, Lighting Design by Harold F. Burgess II, Sound Design by Elisheba Ittoop, and Costume Design by David Burdick gives us a glimpse into the lives of a middle-class West Philadelphia family who are dealing with illness, change, and individual demons that are trying to get them down. All of these issues thrown into the pot make for an entertaining, bittersweet tale that is relatable and very important, tackling Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia in a way that is accessible to all audiences.

Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


Set in present day in an old neighborhood in West Philadelphia, Dotty is the widowed matriarch of a middle class family with three grown children including two daughters and one son. Recently, the tables have turned and the children are finding they are all of a sudden taking care of mom rather than the other way around. When it comes to family, you deal, you compromise, and you make sacrifices. Family is just plain hard to deal with sometimes but then, nature likes to throw a curve ball and it throws Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia on top of everything else and the ball game changes completely.
As I’ve stated before, Everyman Theatre has not disappointed when it comes to sets for their productions and James Fouchard’s exquisite Set Design is no different. He has managed to recreate an elegant upper-middle class home that is still “homey” with working kitchen appliances and crown molding that’s to die for! Fouchard’s ingenuity shines through as the entire set makes a complete shift to the left during intermission for Act II. What was once a large kitchen and dining room (left to right) becomes ¼ kitchen, dining room, and large living room (left to right) within 15 minutes. His attention to detail from the tchotchkes around the room to the beautifully decorated Christmas tree is superb and authentic and Fouchard is to be commended for his striking design.
Lighting and Sound Design by Harold F. Burgess II and Elisheba Ittoop, respectively, is well thought out and absolutely appropriate to this piece. Burgess’ Lighting Design is spot on giving the audience cues to what time of day it is both inside and outside and sets the mood beautifully throughout the piece. Working in tandem with Lighting Design, Ittoop’s Sound Design works nicely, especially when a good old fashioned vinyl record of a bygone era is played on the record player giving a nostalgic feel to the entire piece. Along with that, whether scripted or otherwise, the song choices for this production near perfect and move the piece along with ease.
Yaegal T. Wlech, Paige Hernandez, and Dawn Ursula. Photo by Stan Barouh

Yaegal T. Wlech, Paige Hernandez, and Dawn Ursula. Photo by Stan Barouh


Costume Design by David Burdick is superb capturing the contemporary look of this middle-class family in West Philly. Not being a period piece, costumes are pretty much every day styles but Burdick’s design still shines as each character’s style is unique, adding to each character’s presence. Urban elegance is what I would call this costume plot and it works impeccably with this piece, adding to the value of the production.
The script for DOT (by none other than Coleman Domingo, a star of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead) is touching on a delicate topic and is funny and poignant at the same time so any director has to handle it adroitly but under the bright helm of Director Vincent M. Lancisi, this piece shines. Lancisi really understands this piece and uses the humor of the script wisely, catching the audience off guard, at times, and breaking up the drama of this emotional story. His characters are authentic and his casting makes for great chemistry onstage. He keeps the action moving smoothly and presents an on point and very well put together production.
Moving on to the performance aspect of DOT, this ensemble is impeccable. They work well together, have the right look, and each actor understands his or her character and the inner emotional factors and outside actions that move them.
Ryan Carlo Dalusung and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Ryan Carlo Dalusung and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


Ryan Carlo Dalusung takes on the role of Fidel, a more supporting role of caregiver to our titular character, Dot, but just as significant as every other character in this piece. Dalusung gives strong performance as the Kazakhstani caregiver who answered a Craigslist ad and really seems to get his characters purpose of going through a similar situation as Dot, not really understanding everything that is going on at all times with the only difference being his handicap is a language barrier while Dot’s is more physical. I did have slight issue with his accent as I heard it as more South American or Spanish but it very could be Kazakhstani as Kazakhstan is placed smack dab in the middle between Russia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia… any one of those accents may have worked. Regardless of the accent, Dalusung gives a believable performance making his character very likable and befitting with the family for whom he works.
Rob Jansen and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Rob Jansen and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


The role of Adam, the fussy husband of the only male of the family who has some demons of his own to contend with, is masterfully played by Rob Jansen. Adam is a 40-year-old who is possibly in the beginnings of a mid-life crisis and Jansen’s portrayal is near perfect. He gets this character and he is comfortable on the stage. He manages to show two sides of this character with one being the nagging husband of Donnie as well as the empathetic, sweet son-in-law of Dotty. His delivery may be a bit too careful at times, sounding a bit scripted and unnatural, but overall, his character is congenial he gives a confident and enjoyable performance.
Dawn Ursula, Paige Hernandez, and Yaegel T. Welch.  Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula, Paige Hernandez, and Yaegel T. Welch. Photo by Stan Barouh


Yaegel T. Welch tackles the role of Donnie, the prodigal (and only) son of Dotty, who is a 40-year-old freelance writer and middle child, who might not like the idea of his mother being sick. Welch’s portrayal of Donnie is absolutely outstanding as he navigates through the emotions of this character, dealing with the possibility of growing apart from his husband, not having a steady job in New York, caring for a sick parent, and wanting children. Throw in an ex-girlfriend and you have the makings of a pretty heavy character, but Welch takes this challenge and runs with it. His mannerisms and overall attitude make for a very authentic and affable character and, comparing to my brother, the middle child in my own family, Welch plays this role beautifully. His chemistry with his fellow cast mates is wonderful and he gives a strong, confident performance.
Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Sharon Hope. Photo by Stan Barouh


Shelly, the overbearing, eldest child who is also a stressed out, day-drinking single mom is played by Resident Artist Dawn Ursula, and she pulls off this role flawlessly. Her character, like many caretakers, feels as though she’s the only one of her siblings dealing with the situation of a sick parent while trying to stay afloat in her own life and the gesticulations and emotion that exudes from Ursula’s performance are outstanding. She captures the desperation and stress of this character but also gets the humor that is intertwined making for a very real and relatable. Her delivery might be a bit too forceful in the beginning, sounding too scripted and deliberate, but as the show progresses, her delivery falls into a very good rhythm, fitting in nicely with the show as a whole. I just wish it would have happened from the beginning. Ursula managed to get to the heart of this character and it makes for a very strong, entertaining, touching, and noteworthy performance.
Dawn Ursula and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh


Paige Hernandez takes on the role of Averie, the youngest, brash, lost-all-give-a-f**k, one-time YouTube sensation, and she is a standout in this production. Though the character, with her loud entrances and blunt replies, seems to be the comic relief of the piece, Hernandez pulls off the character with excellence and ease.  She is very natural and confident in this role and her comedic timing and delivery are spot on. Being the youngest in my family, I can assure you, her attitude toward and actions in the situations that arise in the show are just about perfect. I think the youngest of any brood has his or her own ideas on how things run and, usually, he or she thinks she absolutely right and Hernandez portrays this in a way that hits home for me. Her performance is definitely funny, but it is also moving making the character of Averie well-rounded and well-performed. Kudos to Hernandez on a great performance.
Dawn Ursula and Megan Anderson. Photo by Stan Barouh

Dawn Ursula and Megan Anderson. Photo by Stan Barouh


Another definitely highlight in this production of DOT is Resident Artist Megan Anderson, who takes on the role of Jackie, the high school sweetheart of Donnie and a current hot mess. Jackie has a plethora of problems of her own, but sometimes family doesn’t mean just blood related and she gets sucked into the situations of this family she’s known her entire life. Anderson is so natural in this role and brings a realness to it that it was easy for me to forget she was reading from a script. Her story of life in the big city, infidelity, being single, and coming home for a break from life is just as interesting as the main plot and Anderson carries it well. She plays her character to fit right in with this family and she shines in her performance. Her authenticity and comedic timing are impeccable, as are her emotional scenes, making her character amiable and relatable. Kudos to Anderson for a job very well done.
Sharon Hope with the Cast of DOT. Photo by Stan Barouh

Sharon Hope with the Cast of DOT. Photo by Stan Barouh


The pinnacle of this production certainly Sharon Hope, who takes on the titular role of Dotty (or Dot), the elderly, strong matriarch of this crazy family who, by fate alone, is slipping into an inevitable oblivion because of the recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Hope takes this role and makes it her own and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. Though an elderly character, she’s a contemporary character and Hope manages to embrace the old fashioned (and conservative) values of this woman but brings an air of au fait to the character. Her quick transitions from congenial mother to angry, confused woman is on point and poignant. She is able to portray the struggles of one whose mind is slowly slipping away, with no way of coming back while at the same time portraying a woman who loves and enjoys her family and wants to be present for as long as she can. Her performance is top notch and is worth the price of admission.
Yaegel T. Welch, Dawn Ursula, Sharon Hope, Ryan Carlo Dalusung, and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh

Yaegel T. Welch, Dawn Ursula, Sharon Hope, Ryan Carlo Dalusung, and Paige Hernandez. Photo by Stan Barouh


Final though… DOT at Everyman Theatre is a well-crafted story of an everyday family and is a relatable, poignant, and funny study into an issue that is far from funny, but absolutely present in our current lives. I laughed, I cried, I had all the feels, and whether you’ve experienced Alzheimer’s or Dementia first hand, indirectly, or not at all, you will walk away with a better understanding and perhaps a bit more compassion for our fellow humans, especially those affected by this disease. Get your tickets now because this is not a production that is to be missed this season.
That’s what I thought about DOT, playing at Everyman Theatre… what did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, please go to Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
DOT will play through January 8 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.