Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, November, 2003
Director Derek Campbell has taken a positively Wodehouseian approach to Oscar Wilde’s last play, and it works very well. Campbell has preserved the formality and stiffness of late Victorian Britain that Wilde so deftly lampoons, while moving the wordy dialogue along at a chipper canter, its hooves raised high and its mane tossing in the breeze. This production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a very pretty filly indeed, and it knows it. It is all flash and show, and it works beautifully.
Benjie White, who also appears as Jack Worthing’s rigid butler, Lane, has designed three lovely sets in-the-round, each more tasteful and restrained than the last, which create a modern and three-dimensional “Earnest” without removing its innate formality. He has devised a method of storing the Oriental carpets that feature in Acts I and III during Act II that is as clever as Wilde’s dialogue. The set change from Act I to Act II got a hand at the performance I attended, which is a very rare occurrence.
The direction and the setting are complimented by several flawless performances by a most appealing cast. Campbell sets the tone and the pace and his actors maintain it (and their British accents) throughout.
Brian Reese, as Jack Worthing, has the most mournful eyebrows I have ever seen. They are absolutely his own, and might even work to his disadvantage in another role, but for an utterly upper-crust young Englishman they are spot on. Jason Dolmetsch is all sleek smarm as Algernon Moncrief, his eyes twinkling with mischief as he devours cucumbers sandwiches and muffins galore. I realized that I had never seen a production of “Earnest” in which the two male leads were played by men young enough (or appearing young enough) to pull off that feckless Bertie Wooster attitude that Reese and Dolmetsch have perfected.
The girls are as giddy as the guys. Stephanie Moffett as the Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax and Katie Ann McDermott as Cecily Cardew are lovely to look at and listen to, and absolutely hilarious. Both are playing considerably younger than their actual ages, but they pull it off. McDermott completely captures the petulant stubbornness of the seemingly coy young Cecily. Her endless posing is amusing.
I was pleased to see Cynthia Weinrich as Lady Bracknell allowed to appear as an attractive and intelligent older woman, rather than an ugly old twit. She looked just as beautiful as the younger women, but wielded the authority of her age with an iron hand.
Ted DuBonis was delightfully a-twitter as the celibate Reverend Canon Chasuble, D.D. His discomfort over his obvious attraction to the opposite sex was handled delicately and believably while still being terribly funny. It was a relief to see him shed his chastity (Anglican priests can and do marry) for true love in the end.
White as the morose Lane and Bob Wright as the slightly sillier Merriman, Jack’s servants in town and country respectively, added a lot in their small parts. I loved Wright hasty exit when he realized that Cecily and Gwendolen’s couth country tea party was about to erupt into a genteel cat fight.
I was least enamored of Bairbre McCarthy as Miss Prism. She played the role too young and girlish, although she is no longer young or a girl. It was difficult to see how Reverend Chasuble had held out so long against her frantic flirtatious onslaught.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is both a play of its time, and a play that transcends time. There was a large contingent of high school students as well as the usual gaggle of grey-haired folks and a few of us middle-aged nuts who go to the theatre despite it being against the demographic norm at the matinee performance I attended, and everyone had a great time. The show is just plain silly, and Campbell and his cast keep it merrily zipping along – aided by two intermissions which means you never sit so long your butt hurts (sorry to be so crude, but I have attended too many shows lately which seem oblivious to the limitations of the human derriere.)
The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” runs November 30. The show runs two hours and forty minutes with two intermissions and is suitable for the entire family. Call the box office at 518-677-2495 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003