Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is a most delicious, if not the most delicious, comedy of manners, morals and misrepresentation of the manor-born. Wilde's piercingly sharp dialogue still delights, some 110 years after it was written. Algernon and Jack both fall in love under assumed names. When the women announce they could only love a man named Ernest, Algy and Jack must work quickly to maintain their lady loves. Fun, frothy and frivolous, The Importance of Being Earnest will keep audiences laughing until spring arrives.
Good Theater offers saucy ‘Earnest’
Maine Sunday Telegram by April Boyel 4/7/2010
Of course, as all of us Irish and Irish at heart know, that also means St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner, poised to pay homage to all things green. What better way to welcome both occasions than with a rollicking social satire by an unforgettable Irish writer?
The Good Theater is closing out its eighth season with a vibrant production of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest."
The play was Wilde's last, and undoubtedly his most known and restaged. That invariably poses the problem of how to keep the production fresh. Also, in an intimate theater, how do you re-create the three distinct settings within the play?
The ever-creative Good Theater, under the direction of Brian P. Allen, finesses its way past both challenges.
Scenic Artist Janet Montgomery has crafted a magical set, with parts that can be turned and rearranged like a puzzle to create the play's three locations. And her impressionist rendering of the Manor House garden, seen in acts 2 and 3, would make even the most diehard of snow lovers yearn for spring.
The play is set in England during the late Victorian era, and it derives much of its deliciously entertaining humor from the ruling class' obsession with a person's name and station and the appearance of propriety and manners.
Allen has cast eight performers who devilishly highlight Wilde's brazen satirical wit.
Brian Chamberlain and Matthew Delamater play Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing. Both characters have concocted ways to circumvent their societal obligations and expectations. Algernon has an ailing fictitious friend named Bunbury, and Jack lives a dual life in the city and country by pretending to have a younger brother named Earnest.
Both Chamberlain and Delamater deliver lively wordplay and plenty of laughs as their character's "Bunburying" begins to backfire. And Chamberlain adds impishness to his character, marked by a Cheshire Cat-like grin that's a delightful cross between bemused and mischievous.
Algernon's aunt, Lady Bracknell, played by Denise Poirier, is the epitome of the period's high-society lady. Poirier brings just the right amount of over-the-top comedy to the role and accentuates her character's societal idiosyncrasies and hypocrisy with a deft delivery of Wilde's needling witticisms.
Abbie Killeen brings a similar flair to her role as Lady Bracknell's daughter, Gwendolyn Fairfax. Killeen spices up the role by mimicking some of Poirier's mannerisms, affirming Algernon's assertion that "all women become like their mothers."
Her catfight with Jack's ward Cecily Cardew (Meredith Lamothe) is a dialogue highlight as the two characters verbally slay each other, all the while maintaining manners and propriety.
Kathleen Kimball lends a memorable performance as the somewhat forgetful Miss Prism, as does Glenn Anderson as Miss Prism's romantic interest, Reverend Chasuble.
Bob McCormack is a scene-stealer in his dual role as servants Lane and Merriman, needing little more than a well-placed look of disgust to send laughter through the audience.
The Good Theater delivers a wonderfully saucy production of Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" that rejuvenates this fun classic and serves as a fitting end to the season.
Lovely Luxury: Good Theater’s rich, colorful ‘Earnest’
The Portland Phoenix by Megan Grumbling 4/17/2010
The main pleasure of Wilde's script is its elegant, glistening aristocratic frivolity, and Good Theater's visual manifestations of it are rich stuff. In Janet Montgomery's impressive design, each of three acts brings us new delights of luxury as we move from Algernon's posh bachelor flat in London to the garden and then the drawing room of Jack's country manor. The interiors are flush with the lavish fabrics of the leisure class, and the garden, particularly, is sublime with painted flora and marvelous depth of field. Laid out with plenty of bone china and crust-less finger foods, these are flawless settings for the leisure class's decadent trivialities.
Chamberlain and Delamater are nicely matched as the two bachelor buddies; both are suavely secure in their privilege, and have a great tetchy banter to their rapport. Chamberlain looks all the rascal playboy (particularly in some rather startlingly hued duds), served by the perfectly phlegmatic manservant Lane (Bob McCormack). Delamater balances him well with his darker features, his touch of older gravitas, and his rather more senile manservant Merriman (also McCormack). Lovelorn or not, both manage to wallow in delightfully puerile bickering — watch how stylishly they spar even with mouths full of muffins.
Ah, the lucky objects of their affections! Allen casts another good pair in the women: Killeen's Gwendolyn is just as blithely transported by herself, her voice flirting between sonorousness and shrill. As the younger Cecily, Lamothe looks like a dream with her creamy blonde ringlets, in her powder blue and pearls, gracefully evading the watchful eye of her governess Miss Prism (the marvelously sharp-eyed and mellifluous Kathleen Kimball). She does a particularly smart job of balancing the girl's vapidity and Wilde's wit, creating an impossible creature perfectly suited to farce.
Along with the suitors' true identities, the big obstacle to everyone's happiness is the formidable aunt of Algernon and Gwendolyn, Lady Bracknell. Denise Poirier gives her perhaps the witheringest of withering looks, and her voice is delectably suited to the matron's wry pronouncements. Less is more with this Bracknell, and her subtlety yields some moments to savor: Watch the barest frisson of horror run through her, from her blink to her fingertips, when she learns that her future son-in-law was found in a handbag in Victoria Station.
If only all such troublesome origins and unwanted identities could be resolved with a little deus ex machina and a christening. It's pure pleasure to watch the coincidences unfold on Good Theater's stage, as the lights cue our relief by growing even more golden. A particular joy is how well Allen lets his characters channel Wilde's voice throughout the frothy nothings and fantastic improbabilities that consume his characters: Algernon may reproach that Cecily doesn't talk anything but nonsense. But Wilde has his checkmate in Lamothe's coyly raised eyebrow as Cecily responds, "Nobody does."
Algernon – Brian Chamberlain
Jack – Matthew Delamater
Lady Bracknell – Denise Poirier
Miss Prism – Kathleen Kimball
Rev Chausible – Glenn Anderson
Gwendolyn – Abbie Killeen*
Cecily – Meredith Lamothe
Lane/Merriman – Bob McCormack
Director – Brian P. Allen
Set Design – Janet Montgomery
Production Stage Manager – Joshua Hurd
Tech Director – Stephen Underwood
Assistant Tech Director – Craig Robinson
* Member Actors' Equity Association