The Importance of Being Earnest: Majestic Theater
Oscar Wilde’s Victorian ‘Trivial Comedy for Serious People’ is a Fun Romp
Nobody names their kid Earnest any more, and nobody even uses the adjective much any more. But tonight we rolled all the way back to 1895 England, where indeed, the name Earnest is in use and it’s the source of conflict in Oscar Wilde’s famous Victorian satire, at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield.
The show was fun…three acts of fun, and as complicated as you’d expect any good Victorian farce to be. You have characters like the charming smoking-jacket clad Algernon Moncrieff (Peter Evangelista) parrying with his buddy Jack Worthing (Rylan Morsbach).
Both of these professional equity actors are smart enough not to pull out corny English accents, but instead, they revel in Wilde’s delightfully clever repartee in American English with British mannerisms. All of the actors had the clipped way of walking around the stage that added to the script. Perky, funny and quick…like the clever lines.
Wilde is perhaps the world’s most quotable playwright, we all know a few of his sayings, and here they roll off the lips of the cast and despite their complexity, most are hilarious.
‘Flirting with her husband is like washing clean linen in public,” proclaims Lady Bracknell, (Lisa Abel), who like her castmate Miss Prism, (Krista Lucas) is also an equity actor. These two had perfect British accents, unwavering and realistic throughout, and it made Wilde’s unique observations sound even more clever.
“Three addresses always encourages confidence,” Lady Bracknell declared, while reviewing John/Earnest’s qualifications for her daughter’s hand.
“He’s never written a book…that’s how much he knows!” declares Reverend Chasuble (Peter J. Hicks), as he runs off stage with Miss Prism, who has given up trying to teach any more German to her inattentive pupil, Cecily Cardew (Caelie Scott Flanagan). Cecily is love object number two, and of course, she too yearns for a husband with the name Earnest. What is it about that name, anyway?
The plot of the three-act play was a familiar theme taken from one of many classical concepts, like mixing characters up, having fake brothers etc. One character uses two names, Jack and Earnest, and pretends there is a brother. But when the gloriously fetching eligible woman Gwendolyn Fairfax arrives and our man is smitten, he finds out how much she likes that name of Earnest, that she thought was his. He thinks of it as his City name vs his Country (real) name of Jack. He just isn’t named Earnest.
Then there’s talk of being christened and given a new name, how about in 15 minutes? asks the Reverend Chasuble (Peter J. Hicks). There is a bag big enough to hold …a baby. You know the story.
The only character whose voice we didn’t particularly enjoy was the butler/servant Lane/Merriman, (Tom Dahl). He managed to scream every line, too loud. The production rolled along pretty well even with the double intermissions, and the sets by Michael Lounsbery were interesting. The apartment with the pink sofa where Jack and Algernon begin the show is flipped to a brick walled Herefordshire garden with roses. Later on, we’d end the play and tie up all the loose ends with a set adorned by dramatic old portraits of English nobles.
Director Rand Foerster was a steady hand on the last production at the Majestic, Jack Tandy’s Moonglow, that I reviewed here. He continues at the helm with this show and he lets the elaborately descriptive Wilde script do its magic. It’s one big quotable quote after another in this “trivial comedy for serious people,” the play’s subtitle.
Peter Evangelista as Algernon was particularly appealing, he didn’t look like an classic aristocratic Englishman but his physical affect just nailed it. He was dressed in luxurious costumes. Many kudos to Costume Designer Dawn McKay for a colorful and realistic set of outfits.
Lady Bracknell and her daughter were regally attired throughout, right down to the pheasant feathers in the cap.
Cecily (Caelie Scott Flanagan) was quite fetching as well as she fended off and then welcomed the advances of our heroes. Her huffy outrage and gestures with her hands struck just the right prim tone and she too kept the pace going fast.
Rylan Morsbach played the incredulity of Jack with skill, he also fit well into his role. It all adds up to a fun night of theater, worth leaving the house for the laughs.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Rand Foerster. Tickets range from $31-$35 and can be purchased by visiting or calling the box office at (413) 747-7797. Majestic Theater, West Springfield. Through Feb 11.