BWW Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Delights Audiences at 3rd Act Theatre Company
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is a well-regarded classic for a reason. With themes of love, social class, and the allure of occasional mischief, this timeless play continues to entertain audiences over 100 years after its original production date. When done well, The Importance of Being Earnest is delightfully fun, fast, and funny. Oklahoma City's 3rd Act Theatre Company has created a production that is all of that and more.
The Importance of Being Earnest tells the story of John Worthing who assumes different identities depending on his location. After some persuasion, he informs his friend Algernon that he goes by Jack in the Country and Earnest when in Town. Algernon reveals that he also utilizes a pseudonym for precarious situations. As the play progresses and we witness the protagonist's courtship of Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, these alter egos prove to cause an immense amount of chaos and confusion. All of this culminates in a love story that is incredibly fun and unequivocally charming.
First and foremost, 3rd Act's production of The Importance of Being Earnest excels by honoring the source material and letting the script do the heavy lifting. The play is so well written and has a built-in tempo that drives the action, as well as the comedy. Lead by Jamie Brewster's wonderful direction, the cast follows these written cues and the show never suffers from a down moment or a dull performance. The staging at times feels like precise choreography as characters fly about the stage, and Brewster is to be applauded for the way she creates tension and comedy, even when actors are seated and in deep conversation.
The production team for 3rd Act has placed this particular telling in a Steam Punk setting. Although this feels unnecessary and at times not fully lived into, it does provide for some fun bits. More importantly, the Steam Punk themes create a very interesting canvas for Costume Designer, Dakota Lee Bryant to work some real magic. For a relatively new company with assumed limited resources, the costumes in The Importance of Being Earnest are fantastic across the board and bring a beautiful cohesion to the entire production.
For a play that often explicitly mentions the ages of many characters, there are some casting choices that feel odd at first. That is not to say that the ensemble as a whole is by any means disappointing. There is not a weak link in the cast. Even the minor roles of Lane (James Tyra) and Merriman (Joe Burleigh) are brought to life with specificity and care. Just don't be alarmed to see experienced actors playing roles that may traditionally be portrayed by college students.
Justice Wickstrom's take on Algernon is incredibly fun to watch. He often times seems
detached and uninterested while still being the smartest person in the room. Algernon's quick wit paired with Wickstrom's casual, but intentional timing keeps the comedy light and fast without telling you when the joke is coming. Wickstrom's energy on stage pairs wonderfully with David Mays' portrayal of Jack/Earnest Worthing. Mays is fast, physical, and highly energetic. Watching these two navigate their self-inflicted sticky situation makes for scene work that is interesting and refreshing.
Holly McNatt is lovely as Gwendolen Fairfax, utilizing an equal blend of sweet and sour to get what she wants and maintain dominance in relationships. McNatt captures the tenacity of Gwendolen with a cadence and demeanor that can turn on a dime and is consistently fresh and unexpected.
Cecily Cardew, played wonderfully by Rosemary Orwig Rodgers, is light, bubbly, and innocent with electric blue hair and eccentric clothing. Rodgers displays a firm handle on the language of the play and navigates Cecily's sweet disposition with sincerity and hilarity. That being said, many of her funniest moments come from unspoken gestures and active listening.
Perhaps the most surprising relationship is that between Reverend Chasuble (David Fletcher-Hall) and Miss Prism (Christine Harris). For two characters that are often disregarded as accessories to the four lovers, Hall and Harris stand out with their genuine and unassuming delivery and a chemistry that makes you care for the future of their characters.
In recent years, the role of Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell, has often been played by a man. This could easily be brushed off as a tired trope or lazy gimmick but that is not the case with 3rd Act's production of Earnest. Don Taylor, who exquisitely plays the larger-than-life matriarch, is never once campy or unnecessarily exaggerated. With an elegant physicality and masterful vocal work, Taylor brings the character to life in a way that is natural and so much fun to watch.
Whether you're a lover of all things Oscar Wilde or have never seen The Importance of Being Earnest, you will find many things to love about this production. Even though the play was written in the late 1800's, it is still accessible and wildly funny for a modern audience. 3rd Act Theatre Company is founded and lead by an established group of artists in the Oklahoma Theatre community, and it shows in their work. It is such a joy to see a young company successfully bringing engaging stories to an Oklahoma audience with creativity and care.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs through February 23rd at 3rd Act's theatre space, located in The Shoppes at Northpark. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Visit 3rdacttheatreco.com for tickets and more information.