BWW Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at Texas State Univeristy
The first time I encountered THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde I was a junior in high school. I understood that this was a fantastic play, but I didn't understand how the witty dialogue could be the uproarious comedy that my theater teacher promised me it was. That is, until I saw Texas State University's production of the "trivial comedy for serious people", which would make Wilde himself proud.
Director Jerry Ruiz was able to take a show that has been around since 1895 and breathe new life into it. Ruiz was able to immerse the audience into the world of the Victorian elite while heightening the comedic elements of the piece. What's funny is that Ruiz highlighted the comedy in the silent moments of this fantastic script-focusing on the small bits of physical comedy, which never failed to elicit a laugh.
The chemistry between the two main couples was deliciously palpable. Jack (Malik James) and Gwendolen (Maura Gill) were dignified while still acting like love-struck teenagers any second they could. Algernon (Will Wilkerson) and Cecily (Marissa Mendoza), on the other hand, were walking the line of being endearing while flirtatiously naughty.
James's Jack gives off an aura of an intelligent gentleman when he is around his beloved Gwendolyn and her mother, Lady Bracknell (played by the incomparable Kaycee Swierc). However, he reverts to the maturity, or immaturity as it was, of an angry 13-year-old when he is around Wilkerson's Algernon. Wilkerson was clearly emulating the swagger of the playwright himself, Oscar Wilde. Together these leading men brought an immense energy to the physical comedy that they were given - scampering around like kids on the playground.
Gill and Mendoza played off of each other incredibly well seeing how their characters were near opposites. Gill played Gwendolyn as a head-strong, uppity woman who knew exactly how she wanted her happily ever after to look with her Earnest. This was juxtaposed by Mendoza's sweet and quirky Cecily who found her Earnest attractive for his dastardly ways. Their arguments took place with fast-paced verbal fisticuffs that was a change of pace from the physicality of their romantic counterparts.
The manservants of Algernon and Jack's homes, Lane and Merriman were played to beautiful effect by William Hoss Abete. He was able to give two completely different performances-making Lane perfectly pessimistic and Merriman delightfully dimwitted. Swierc's Lady Bracknell was charming and haughty - the moments when she is checking the credentials of Jack as a match for Gwendolyn was one of the best timed scenes I have seen in a long time.
The set design by Gary Thornsberry was beautifully done and well thought out for theatre in the round. The elegant love seats were all upholstered in different colors of velvet, and the garden set extended to the area behind the audience with large painted flowers that would put Anthropologie to shame. Monica Pasut's costume design added to the grandeur of each of the characters. Pasut was able to mix elements of the upper class Victorian style elements with modern pieces. Not to mention the hats for Gwendolyn and her mother were reminiscent of the best hats at the Royal Wedding(s).
I have not had a night at the theatre that was as enjoyable as my time at THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at Texas State. I am constantly amazed at the quality work that these students turn out, and I cannot wait to see what's next.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde is running April 9-13 with show times at 7:30 and the 14th at 2 p.m. at the Theatre Center Mainstage. This is a SOLD OUT run.
Tickets are $17-20 for adults, $12-$15 for children and seniors and $10 for Texas State students. Stand by is available on a first come first serve basis. For ticketing information check txstatepresents.com or call 512.245.6500.
PARKING: If you do not have a Texas State University Parking Tag, parking will be directed to the Edward Gary Parking Garage a fee based parking facility.