BWW Reviews: APT's Exquisite Romantic Comedy THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Charms Audiences
In a tribute to the quintessential wit of Oscar Wilde, Spring Green's American Players Theatre (APT) opens their 2014 season at the Up the Hill Theatre by staging The Importance of Being Earnest. A play often considered one of Wilde's great literary achievements, APT under the direction of William Brown casts the comedic farce as a classical romantic comedy touched by revisiting the affectionate humor between a vintage Laurel and Hardy routine.
Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet corroborates with the Hollywood era style producing an elegant set using faux marble seating punctuated by ebonies, grays, and monochromatic colors blended with ivories in the furniture. A huge abstract painting in Moncrieff's London flat reiterates the play's title. After all, abstraction embodies an earnest artistic and visual endeavor while some individuals consider the art form utter nonsense, absurd.The fiery red color might symbolize romantic passion accented by the black and gold, a nod to social luxury, to dominate the first act set.
The art, a painting, illustrates Wilde's almost absurd story of how one brother was tucked in a handbag as a baby, at Victoria Station, the Brighton Line, and then rises to the heights of London's frivolous society. Who eventually ends up being named Earnest when he thought his name was Jack. An "important" asset to the woman Jack adores. A play where Marcus Truschinski's lanky Algernon Moncrieff also contrasts the less tall Matt Schwader's Jack Worthing, reminiscent of the definitive Laurel and Hardy repartee.
Truschinski displays this vintage form when he turns to the audience after uttering one of Wilde's well known quips, a wide smile spread across his handsome face, and then waits. Schwader provides the perfect counterpoint to Truschinski in his attractive appeal and demeanor, aptly demonstrated in scenes when they discuss their lives spent doing nothing important. When the two discover they are brothers near the final scene, Truschinski leaps into Schwader's arms, another point of comic absurdity, a very funny stage moment.
In the production under Brown's direction, APT reaches towards the epitome of romantic comedy. The cast often breaks the fourth wall when delivering a witticism, speaking directly to the audience to heighten the humor, with pregnant pauses to exaggerate Wilde's comments on social propriety and class that engage and resonate with audiences today.
Costumes designed by Mathew J. LeFebvre reestablish the glamorous Hollywood era so the audience appreciates the sumptuous hued gowns set against against the stage's simplicity. Where in Worthing's county garden scenes the veritable straight edged, tightly trimmed hedges mimics the plays Victorian morals.
An incomparable Sarah Day provides a quirky Lady Bracknell, who delivers some of the best lines, a warm and reserved personality befitting her station in society. Cristina Panfilio complements Day as her daughter, the beside herself to be married Gwendolen Fairfax while the ebullient Kelsey Brennan portrays the continually shallow although entirely sincere Cecily Cardew with affection.
Only at a such a renowned theater company could the cameo role of Cecily's teacher, Miss Prism fall to Tracy Michelle Arnold, who adds a likable German angst to her character. Again, the contrast of the slim Arnold paired with John Pribyl's Rev. Canon Chasuble adds to the charming romantic chemistry seen in all these couplings.
In these exceptional APT performances equally nuanced and then slightly amplified to elevate Wilde's word play, The Importance of Being Earnest captivates and charms audiences, while the theater aisles were used to interact with the opening night crowd. When Algernon and Jack march down one aisle arm in arm singing "The Wrath of the Pirate King" the audience revels in their camaraderie and their playful voices.
In a contemporary time period when the romantic comedy might have declined in popularity at the movies or on stage, perhaps seen as being too frivolous instead of serious, APT lavishly returns in the first play of the season with this sophisticated production, or a ravishing theatrical "rom com" as modern culture abbreviates the genre. The production adds hints of slapstick while the embraces, kisses and wordplay become discreetly sensuous rather than Victorian, as are the scenes between Algernon and Jack enjoying those beloved cucumber sandwiches or muffins.
Every audience waits to applaud a happy ending, three in the wings at this two intermission, almost three hour evening that flies by sitting under the stars. A play where brotherly love and wedded bliss begin again, even for the older couple Prism and Chasuble. When these debonair men carry the women they love in their arms off the stage to close the evening, the audience realizes they feasted on Wilde's folly and fanciful romance. Inherently the audience knows the performance suspends the truths Wilde so humorously throws to them through his delectable language, Resounding with plenty of sincere heart and laughter, APT reprises an exquisite and enthralling The Importance of Being Earnest.
American Players Theatre presents Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest through September 2014. For information, special programming and tickets please call 608.588.2361 or visit: www.americanplayers.org