Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Importance of Being Earnest

This review appeared in The Davis Enterprise on 1/24/2007

It’s a world of polite society, cucumber sandwiches, and a world where “smoking” is considered a proper activity for a young man. “A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is.”

It’s a world where “being Earnest” is very important.

In fact, that’s the name of the play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, who can skewer high society pomposity better than most. It is currently delighting audiences at the Woodland Opera House.

Jack Lynn, who, in his 70 year career has taught such luminaries as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman and worked with the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Sir John Gielgud, is making this production his directorial swan song. The veteran director is going out with a bang, not with a whimper.

He has assembled a talented cast, with keen comic timing, and several are new to the Woodland Opera House.

Chris Quant is delicious as the n’er do well Algernon Montcrief whose life seems to consist of partying and heading off into the country for dalliances. For this purpose he has created an imaginary friend named Mr. Bunbury (whom Quant pronounces “Bombury,” for some inexplicable reason), who becomes conveniently ill when Algernon needs to get out of town. The young man is quite pleased with the effectiveness of his deception.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!”

Algernon’s friend is Earnest Worthing (Jerry Lee) who is absolutely perfect as the young man who is hiding the fact that his name is really Jack Worthing, and as a baby, he was abandoned in a handbag at Victoria Station and adopted by the wealthy Thomas Cardew, who, on his deathbed, made the young man the guardian for his granddaughter, Cecily (Janey Pintar). Jack has invented a wayward brother named Earnest who lives in the city and whose antics force Jack to have to leave the country and come to town.

Earnest (or Jack) is in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolyn Fairfax (Katherine C. Miller) whose mother is the formidable Lady Bracknell (Shelly Sandford), who has some of the most memorable lines in the play.

Miller is the perfect spoiled upper crust daughter, who fell in love with Jack because she has always dreamed of marrying someone named “Earnest.”

Sandford is prim and ultra proper as she questions Jack about his qualifications to marry her granddaughter. All seems to meet with her approval until he admits that he has lost both of his parents. “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

Deciding that a handbag is not a proper mother, Lady Bracknell forbids the marriage and, when asked by Jack what he can do to change her mind replies, “I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.”

The action moves to Jack’s house in the country, where Algernon has traveled in order to meet Jack’s intriguing ward and introduces himself as Jack’s elder brother Earnest. Pintar is cute as Cecily, whose dream has been to meet a truly wicked man and can hardly wait to meet her guardian’s brother.

But wait, there's more. Cecily’s teacher, Miss Prism (Georgann Wallace), is hiding many things, including a love for the rector, Chasuble (Paul Fearn) and a shameful secret which sheds light on Jack’s parentage, after which everyone learns the real importance of being Earnest.

Mark Garbe and Chris Lamb have minor roles as the manservants Merriman and Lane, respectively.

Laurie Everly-Klassen has outdone herself in the elaborate costumes. The women’s hats alone are not to be believed.

Scenic and lighting design are by the reliable Jeff Kean, who can do more with a few flats than most. One never feels a lack of opulence in any of the scenes.

If you have never seen an Oscar Wilde play, this is the one not to miss. From the sparkling dialog to the keen comic timing of this cast, to the visual delight of the sets and costumes, “The Importance of Being Earnest” delights on all levels.

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