BWW Reviews: The Arvada Center Presents THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST - Classically Wilde!
Before I delve into this review, I have to rant for just a moment. While I do appreciate the liberties some directors take in exploring classics with alternative/parallel universes and the whole "what if?" scenario, sometimes a classic is best left a classic. Thank goodness the Arvada Center's classic Victorian interpretation of Oscar Wilde's 1895 comedy THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, directed by Rod Lansberry, remembers that directive. This is a beautiful and fun homage to a great writer and colorful historical character. While this play was the highlight of Wilde's career, it also heralded his eventual downfall, culminating in his being found guilty of "acts of gross indecency with other male persons" and his sentence to two years of hard labor in a London prison. His "trivial comedy for serious people" mocks marriage, celebrates mismatched lovers, highlights mistaken Earnests, and showcases a classic Victorian girl-fight that ends with everyone uniting happily ever after.
This production, featuring an all-star veteran cast of the Arvada Center, was positively delightful and completely, classically, and hilariously Wilde. Oscar was known for his biting wit and colorful conversation style; he has such a way with words that I found myself smiling throughout the entire show. Act I, with its subtly growing farcical antics, sets the pace for the show. I loved Lady Bracknell's interrogation of Earnest – entertaining, to say the least. Act II is all about the ladies and I simply adored the women's civilized fight ("You're a detestable girl, but I require tea!"), and both Earnests had such fun bickering with one another ("One must be serious about something if one desires any amusement in life!"). We were building such momentum that when Act III faltered and stuttered the show seemed to hit the skids and slow waaaaay down. Luckily, the cast found its rhythm again and the show ended on a characteristically Wilde note. In the end, the audience loved this production and showed it in their audible responses and laughter.
Scott Bellot helms the production as the funny and delightful John Worthing. He plays off each of the other actors with humor and ease and brings appropriate energy to his role. Jake Walker as Algernon Moncrieff offers a genuinely devilish grin and is delightfully animated (excellent facial expressions!) Kate Berry is simply delicious as Gwendolen Fairfax. Her charismatic energy positively glimmers – she lights up the stage with her radiance! Bev Newcomb-Madden was a bit shaky as Lady Bracknell (odd considering her solid acting background), which seemed to throw off the pacing of Act III. Caitlin Wise is youthful and lovely as Cecily Cardew, and Billie McBride as Miss Prism and Colin Alexander as the Reverend Chasuble are adorable and have an enjoyable chemistry.
The set, by resident genius designer Brian Mallgrave, is regal with hints of vaudeville, from the artistic front drop and clam shell floor light to the three fastidiously thought-out and fantastically detailed set designs. The lights by designer Vance McKenzie and sound – energetic music by Steve Stevens – compliment the show well. The other big highlight is the fabulous period costumes. From gorgeous to gaudy, designer Sally A. Burke nails the time period and obviously had fun putting it all together! I especially loved John's pastel striped suit and Lady Bracknell's costumes. Those insane hats were a great touch!
If you love the classics as I do then in all earnestness this is one show you do not want to miss! THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is tickling audiences pink (get it.....Oscar Wilde...pink)through February 19th. For tickets or information, contact the box office at 720-898-7200 or online at www.arvadacenter.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: P. Switzer