BWW Reviews: Shakespeare Theatre Goes Wilde as it Learns THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Seeing plays such as "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde reminds modern theater audiences that they can experience excellent drama even when the play is full of silly words and sillier characters. In fact, many plays, both past and present, use humor in order to communicate a possibly greater, deeper meaning than the dramas of lovelorn romantics and war-torn monarchs can graze.
Wilde's play, on the surface, is a compilation wit, irony and silly people running about causing a ridiculous ruckus over love, muffins and social status. Within it are characters that exude whimsy and airiness, but are secretly harboring a deeper awareness of themselves and of others that they simply do not act upon, or allow themselves to act upon. They constantly remark that though they feel one way, they must act another way in order to bear the weight that societal norms and classist ideals heave upon them. It seems silly to watch on the stage as they unload almost every thought that comes to their minds, but that humor reflects the human condition in a way a tragedy could not.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" easily exudes this ironic level of story telling in Wilde's play with a remarkable finesse. Keith Baxter, director of the production, is obviously well-versed in the intricacies of Wilde. His understanding of the work shined through with the assistance of his brilliant cast, which amongst them shone Lady Bracknell as played by Sian Phillips.
Yet the entire ensemble came together to work seamlessly. This particular play relies upon the timing, humor and quick-wittedness of each cast member. To call out one individually would be to claim that the entire team didn't work as a cohesive unit. But it definitely did. So, kudos to all of the actors involved with this production including Anthony Roach, Todd Scofield, Logan Dalbello, Gregory Wooddell, Sian Phillips, Vanessa Morsco, Patricia Conolly, Katie Fabel, Floyd King, John O'Creagh and Lee McKenna.
The actors' costumes were also a major asset for this piece. Not only were they gorgeous, but they also helped tell Wilde's story by emphasizing specific qualities of each character. A specific note of praise goes towards the feathered hat Gwendolyn (played by Vanessa Morosco) wore in the first act. That hat delivered more character work than any line could hope to accomplish. Not to claim that the actress was not brilliant, for she was especially in her scene with Cecily (played by Katie Fabel), but it is refreshing when a costume helps to add to the overall atmosphere that the play wants to project.
The technical elements of this piece are as masterly as the performances in this show. The audience could not help but gasp at the set transition between act one and two, when the stage opens from what was once Algernon Moncrieff's Flat in London to the country garden at John Worthing's Manor house in Woolton. Simon Higlett, the set designer, draped each set in such unique styles that culminated in a piece that seemed beautifully hyper-realistic, just as Wilde's play is hyper-realistic to the world it satirizes. The lights coated each set in a welcoming light through the designing skills of Peter West, and each scene was upliftingly bookended by the composed musical works of Kim D. Sherman.
I am often quick to point out the flaws of anyone's work, especially my own. However, this play caters to the cynic. It flippantly remarks on the status quo and sets audiences roaring in laughter with stabs of melodrama and absurd gallantry. This is a play that plays on words and fondles the English language and culture with hopeless abandon. For a Wilde fan or for a person eager to soak in the social and political commentary about classist aristocrats, this is certainly not a piece to miss.
Photo Credit: Anthony Roach as Algernon, Siân Phillips as Lady Bracknell and Vanessa Morosco as Gwendolen (background) in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Keith Baxter. Photo by Scott Suchman.