BWW Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at First Presbyterian Theater
One of my favorite lines from THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST states that "In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing."
First Presbyterian Theater's September show, subtitled as a "trivial comedy for serious people," is certainly not a matter of either grave importance or sincerity, but I'm confident that it's got exactly the right amount of style that Oscar Wilde would have wanted to see on stage. The production, directed by John Tolley, was a complete delight from beginning to end, with a thousand laughs to be had in between.
The play rests upon a set of deceptions that the pair of friends Algernon ("Algy") Moncrieff (Aaron Mann) and John "Jack" Worthing (Chance Parker) engage in - with the former pretending he has an ailing friend named "Bunbury" to visit in the country in order to escape social obligations in the city, and the latter pretending he has a delinquent brother named "Ernest" in the city in order to escape his country home once in a while. Jack, who goes by the name "Ernest" himself while in London, is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Laura Laudeman), Algy's cousin and the daughter of the imposing Lady Bracknell (Kate Black). But when he asks for her hand in marriage, Lady Bracknell refuses on the grounds that he has no family connections. I don't want to say much more without spoiling the plot! The first half of the show takes place in London, and after intermission, we move out to the Worthing estate in the country. But rest assured, captivating matters of romance and trickery arise in both locations.
This is a very dialogue-heavy play with not a whole ton of physical action- although it doesn't need action. The chemistry of these actors carries the text completely. In fact, many of the scenes are dependent upon a single pair of characters sharing the stage: Algernon and Jack, "Ernest" and Gwendolen, "Ernest" and Lady Bracknell, Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen... and no matter what the scene, these actors brought a sense of vivacity to the pairing.
Mann and Parker's banter back and forth as Algy and Jack was sickeningly charming in the best possible way, and their friendship and frustrations with each other at varying points in the show was definitely one of the production's highlights. There's also a point at which Cecily (Kelly Maloney) and Gwendolen seem like they'd love to be at each other's throats, and yet they have to maintain the illusion of dignity and polite society. Laudeman and Maloney pull off this comedic juxtaposition with perfection; I'm sure the people sitting behind me wished I would shut up, I was laughing so hard.
(The one other accolade I'd like to mention is that I am so happy this cast could do their British accents convincingly. If there's even one person whose accent falls flat, it can ruin the whole production because all I can do is think about how terrible the accents are. And unfortunately, that happens a lot around Fort Wayne. These pros, however? They crushed it.)
The play runs just over two hours long, but it certainly didn't feel like it. The first act flew by, as did the second. That's the signifier of a good show, I think: when you're so immersed in the world being presented that you forget you're still in your own. I was delighted to spend two hours in this aesthetically-pleasing Victorian world, with these thoroughly playful and witty characters.
Please do yourself a favor and make sure you get out to see THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST one of the next two weekends! It's running September 13, 14, 20, and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and September 15 at 2 p.m. Ticket information can be found here, or you can keep up with First Presbyterian's other theatrical offerings on their Facebook page here.
Photos provided by First Presbyterian Theater.