Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at Toro Theatre Company

Now showing through October 23

By: Oct. 17, 2021
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Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at Toro Theatre Company

BWW Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde's timeless play is enjoyable to watch; not just because it's funny, but also because the biting criticism of social status and expected behavior is apropos to our current social climate. In the hands of the Toro Theatre Company, you will laugh, even though you get the distinct sense that the actors themselves may not understand why it's funny.

Directed by Jere Van Patten with the help of a student director, Xiomara Rodriguez, the staging is fresh and vibrant. It is important to use the space so the blocking doesn't feel squished or out of place. The stage at Poston Junior High is small in comparison to the stage at Mountain View High School, but Van Patten and Rodriguez use the space to create a sense of intimacy, much like you would feel in your own living room. The story doesn't need a lot of frills to succeed and it was nice to see a set that felt homey and real. The set pieces fit the time period and transport the audience to 1895.

The costumes, designed by Aurelie Flores, are stunning. The dress worn by Lady Bracknell in the 3rd act is a work of art. I felt that Jack's suit coats were a little big for him and the velvet hat he wears in the 2nd act was an interesting choice. I was also impressed with the hair and makeup design by Beth Mosey. Each character had a unique hairstyle that fit the time period and all the actors looked the part. The costumes, hair and makeup are not something to be taken for granted. If the actors don't look the part, it is hard for the audience to engage in the story.

As for the actors, I realize that they are children, but in an effort to provide constructive criticism to help them improve, I will be honest, but fair. I really enjoyed the production and laughed heartily throughout the evening, but it was difficult to hear a lot of what was being said because the actors were not projecting. Without mics, it is especially important to project and enunciate your words so the audience can clearly hear you and understand what you are saying. It is also important to slow down and deliver your lines at a steady pace, unless the direction states otherwise. There were several times where the actors were talking so fast that they fumbled their lines. Was it nerves? Was it the excitement of the audience? It could have been a number of things, but it was difficult to understand what was being said because it was being said so quickly and jumbled together. I was also disappointed to miss several lines of dialogue because I was laughing and the actor continued without waiting for the audience to stop laughing. It is important for an actor to learn how to fill that space so the audience has time to laugh and the actors on stage don't drop their characters waiting to resume the show. I am impressed by the natural stage presence these actors exhibit, and with a few adjustments, they will be formidable performers.

Gordon Badgett plays the title character, John Worthing. Badgett is natural on stage, but it was easy to tell when he was flustered or had flubbed his line. He has a great physicality and was easy to hear when he was projecting. His chemistry with his fellow actors, especially Gwendolen, is genuine. Badgett leads the cast well and sets the tone for the scenes.

As Algernon Moncrieff, Mitchell Henriksen, takes his direction and follows it. Maybe not because he understands the direction, but he was told to move somewhere, so he does. He has good comedic timing, but he was a little hard to understand with food in his mouth. His scenes with Badgett are particularly good because you can tell the two actors share a comradery off stage that plays well on stage. Badgett and Henriksen are worthy rivals and friends.

As one of the love interests, and her own woman, Mae Soelberg is fantastic as Gwendolen. Her comedic timing is spot on and the mannerisms she has created perfectly match the setting and the character. There were times where she was hard to hear, but Soelberg clearly understands why the show is funny and brought a delightful presence to the stage.

In the 2nd act, we meet Cecily Cardew, played by Sydney Crandall. Crandall plays Miss Cardew's flippant and petulant nature well, but she is difficult to hear. She also speaks very fast, so her lines are tough to understand. Crandall is charming and well-cast, but I wish I could have understood her better.

Lady Bracknell is a formidable person. She is rich, well educated, and full of opinions that make absolutely no sense. She is brought to life by Carolyn Martin who presents Lady Bracknell straight and measured. For a role this juicy and contradictory, I wish Martin had a little more fun. Lady Bracknell can be as ridiculous as you want and I feel Martin played it safe instead of leaning into what is possible with this character.

The servants in this show are barely seen, but so important to the plot. As Lane, the Butler, Seth Cunningham is funny and his banter with Algernon sets the pace for the entire show. Lane clearly finds his boss insufferable, but handles his duties with competence and a little exasperation. Cunningham was difficult to hear, but I appreciated the physical choices he made. The maid at Mr. Worthing's country estate, Merriman, is played by Autumn Calkins. Calkins is hilarious. She inserts an eye roll or an irritated sigh at all the right moments to make her short time on stage unforgettable.

As Reverend Canon Chasuble, Eli Cox displays a unique energy. His jokes land, but there were times where I felt his lines were garbled. Cox has a great energy on stage and I enjoyed his characterization, but he was difficult to understand. The same goes for Kate Emerick who plays Miss Prism, Cecily's governess. Miss Prism is an older woman who is interested in Doctor Chasuble. Emerick dropped the end of her lines so it was hard to understand the conversations happening on stage. Emerick has a very important role and with some projection and focused consideration, Emerick would be an unstoppable force.

I cannot go without a shout out to the stage crew. It's such an incredible opportunity for these high school students to get experience that will carry them through the rest of their lives. The stage crew is invisible during the production, but without them, the show wouldn't happen.

Overall, this is a wonderful production. I promise you will laugh because the writing and subject matter is so good. This cast obviously enjoys what they are doing and I could tell having an audience made all the difference for them. There is nothing quite like the energy an audience provides and I hope the house is full for the upcoming performances. The Importance of Being Earnest runs through October 23, 2021 at Poston Junior High School. You can buy tickets here.

Photo Credit: Allyson Van Patten


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