By Lynn Geyer
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is the final theatrical offering penned by Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde.
This flamboyant figure, a member of late Victorian English society, liked nothing better than to mock the social mores of his peers; “Earnest” proves the perfect vehicle.
It is the tale of two wastrel aristocratic friends, Earnest and Algernon, who use their station in life for hedonistic purposes. Each has a somewhat veiled alter ego. Earnest’s real name is John; he has a ward living at his country home. Algie has an imaginary ailing friend, Bunbury, whom he must visit when he is ill. This duplicity gives each man the ability to unquestioningly remove himself from duties to travel to his other life.
Jack is in love with Gwendolen, a too proper lady of the day, whose only desire is to marry a man named Earnest, ergo, the reason Jack has assumed that name as his own.
When Jack tells Algie about Cecily, his young ward, Algie decides to travel to the country as Jack’s brother, Earnest, to court the young girl.
To quote another British genius with a quill rather than pen, “O, what a tangled web we weave…”
And from there, it gets so tangled it is virtually wrapped in spider silk.
Director Marilyn Bennett has flawlessly captured the essence of the era with movement, posture and dialect of her actors. She has her thespians speaking their speeches trippingly on the tongue in very, very proper British with rigid backs, even when they lounge about. Her blocking allows each of the four sections of the intimate theatre-in-the-round full view of the action.
The two-scene set boasts a trio of designers, Robin Dean, Larry Hagerman and Hally Phillips. These three brilliantly give the audience a Kensington High Street apartment which metamorphoses into a British country garden.
One of the highlights of the production is Alex Lewington’s magnificent costume plot resplendent with hats to match the dresses, suites and shoes. Lewington has outdone herself, working in her favorite costume period; she turns in a perfection of haute couture and sartorial splendor.
Bennett has chosen her cast from some of the area’s finest to trod the boards.
Michael Sandner is the manservant, Lane, who dresses and serves our Algie as if he were born to the station. Tony Onorati plays Jack’s country butler, Merriman, and Laura Shearer is his housemaid, Felicity.
This trio of servants manages the perfectly choreographed set change from apartment to garden in an entertaining, applause-worthy first act interval.
Lee Ryan is Miss Prism, governess to Jack’s ward. She is a formidable figure who carries out the role with understanding and aplomb.
Aaron J. Schmookler plays Rev. Cannon Chausuble, the local man of the cloth who though professing to be celibate, is somewhat smitten with Miss Prism and she with him. Schmookler is jovially comical with a pixie-like demeanor.
Deya Ozburn is the Honorable Gwendolen Fairfax, Jack’s reason for being Earnest. Ozburn immerses herself into the part to gather all the surface emotions the character harbors and wraps them into a glowing ball, which she tosses to the audience; they approve.
Cassie Jo Fastabend is Cecily Cardew, Jack’s young ward. Fastabend is charming as the perfect, fanciful ingénue so engulfed in her own imagination, she draws others in with her. She is lovely and sprite-like; just perfect for the role.
Syra Beth Puett is Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother. Puett is the epitome of the British grand dame who believes a man is much more desirable who knows nothing, rather than a man who had some knowledge; she easily trips phrases like “a natural ignorance” and acknowledges a man’s worth based solely on his banker’s allowance rather than his views and ideals. Puett is excellent as the character.
Bryan K. Bender plays John Worthing, J.P., the would-be Earnest. Bender is superb as the love-smitten dandy. He is the picture of perfection in posture and poise; his acting is equal to his appearance.
Andrew Kittrell is Algernon Moncrieff. Kittrell is an outstanding figure; a lithe elf who prances about the stage with grace and gusto. His accent is exceptional, his fluid movements are dance-like and his smile would charm the wings off a butterfly.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through July 14, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 20 and an Actor’s Benefit performance at the same time Thursday, June 27.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is Wilde’s not-to-be-missed comedy masterpiece. Each word is a jewel, each line a gem to the ear and mind. You’ll know that’s true when John says, “It’s a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he’s been speaking the truth.”