The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde, directed by Richard Wagner, and presented by The Majestic Reader’s Theatre Company. A timeless comedy of farcical complications of love, identity, and status.
The story is centered around Jack Worthing, who is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, the daughter of Lady Bracknell, who is the Aunt of Algernon Moncrieff, who is Jack’s best friend, who is in love with Cecily Cardew–Jack’s ward. Oh, there are two butlers, Lane and Merriman. Here, let me clear this up..
Jack Worthing has been traveling away from his country house under the premise of visiting his unfortunate brother, Earnest (who doesn’t really exist) all the while spending time with his best friend Algernon (who also has a fake friend with illnesses to get him out of social obligations named Bunbury). Jack wants to ask Gwendolen to marry him but thinks he should tell her his real name only to find out she only wants to marry a man named Earnest. They get engaged. Jack decides to “kill” Earnest, christen himself as Earnest so he can marry Gwendolen. Meanwhile, steadfast bachelor Algernon decides to visit Jack’s country house and announces himself as Earnest. Upon hearing this name and after spending the afternoon together, Cecily Cardew informs Earnest (Algernon) they have been engaged for quite a many months, a fate Earnest (Alegernon) is most pleased by. Then, Jack comes home to the country to announce the death of his brother Earnest only to be surprised by the presence of Algernon claiming to be his dead brother. Then! Gwendolen shows up to the country house and has a bit of a spat with Cecily when it becomes known they are both engaged to Earnest. Jack and Algernon show up, clear the situation about the names and who is engaged to who and each decide to have themselves christened Earnest to please Gwendolen and Cecily. Except, Lady Bracknell has the final word. She informs she will not allow Gwendolen to marry Jack due to his lack of status and being found in a handbag left at a train station as a baby. She also refuses to allow Algernon to marry Cecily for lack of status until it is revealed who her father was. Algernon and Cecily are now happy. Gwendolen and Jack, not so much, until Miss Prism shows up. Miss Prism is Cecily’s governess and Lady Bracknell’s previous nanny. After much investigative conversation, it is learned Miss Prism is the one who absentmindedly left the baby in the handbag in the train station 28 years ago and that Jack’s true identity is John Earnest Moncrieff, Algernon’s brother. At which time, Lady Bracknell approves of the marriage between Gwendolen and Jack, er, Earnest.
A complicated plot, I’ll tell you, filled with quick wit, sarcasm, and selfishness. A delight! It would be hard to quote a favorite line when the play is chock full of snappy one-liners. As a reader’s theatre production, it went off with only the slightest of near misses. Timing issues mostly and a smidge of lack of confidence, I suspect, of one of the actors. The material can be challenging as it requires a quickness in delivery as well as the confidence to “toss” lines away as if they don’t mean anything yet mean everything. And the willingness and understanding of the word “cheeky”.
The set was simple and well thought out only using a couch and table in Act One, a table and chairs for Act Two, and back to a different couch in Act Three. This production used period costumes, designed by Sarah Sullivan, which I thought were a nice choice and made the journey back in time to the period of the play all the more fun. *A note; however, costumes are a great start. Cecily and Gwendolen’s characters were not fully executed while everyone else seemed to be on point. Cecily is a country girl and her frock was appropriate but her hair was in her face too much. Keeping it free-flowing with it tied back a bit would be have character appropriate. Gwendolen looked wonderful in her purple gown; however, her hair was far too simple to be considered for her class status. Curling her hair or putting it in a loose bun would have completed her look. A couple of the men wore wigs, designed by Rose Cheney, which I thought was brilliant! (I wonder why we don’t think of it more often when appropriate?) Lights were perfectly simple and the actors were well lit. It would have been nice to give them a tad bit more light to maneuver during a scene change but they did well. The audience chairs were stacked in pretty tight in a crescent shape around the stage. It worked but felt tight making room for people to pass and get to their chairs.
I love the actors. Each did so well in such a short amount of time with what the material requires to be successful. Ron Seymour plays both butlers, Lane and Merriman, with a sarcastic grace and deprecating manner, it felt like he had been employed as one in the past. Nicolai Kassatkin as Algernon was a perfect choice. His eye-rolling, cucumber sandwich eating, sharp wit, and charming hair flips were so on point. He has a natural comic timing which is vital to a piece such as this. Jason Seivers as Jack was the perfect balance to Nicolai’s Algernon with his calmer approach to wit, his endearing looks into Gwendolen’s eyes, and perfectly pitched “Mother!” an Act Three. And the hair… Laurie Mason as Lady Bracknell was superb. Her lines memorized (she said she had been a previous production which gave her a leg up on the others and that she would’ve had a hard time holding the script considering the material), her stature that personified her role to a tee, and that judgmental delivery only Lady Bracknell could dish. Excellent. Jessica Andrade as Gwendolen was a breath of fresh air with her light tone delivering biting remarks with a range of contained physical emotion realized through the delivery of the language. What a treat! Karen Berg as Miss Prism was perfection in being perfect. More prim and proper and yet susceptible to compliments than Lady Bracknell. She was fun in all of her scenes. Ellianne Smith as Cecily continues to show great potential in theater. She’s wonderful to watch, she has a great face for expressions, a huge smile which brightens up a room; however, it felt like she was hiding behind her script during most of her scenes. Not sure if it was lack of confidence with the material or she was nervous, but the cool thing about reader’s theater is being able to have the script in hand to refer to so you don’t have to worry about memorizing lines. The bad thing is having the script in hand if you use it as a shield. I didn’t get to see much of her face when she was speaking and she had such great expressions when she wasn’t speaking. I hope she stops this bad acting tic before it becomes a bad acting habit. I don’t remember her doing it in Stop Kiss so much… Michael Wren as Rev. Chasuble was delightful as he came in, swept Miss Prism off her feet, and later exclaims disappointment when no christenings are to occur. He cracks me up.
Director Richard Wagner made strong choices in staging and blocking considering the number of actors on stage in Act Three. All were easily seen and heard and no one seemed to bump into one another. One timing issue I had was the butler’s entrances seemed late causing the actors to sit idle until he comes in. It broke the flow a bit and this play needs to be “chop-chop”. Otherwise, well done. Assistant Director Karen Wohlwend did well wrangling the pieces and filling in for Miss Prism for the Saturday evening performance. I did not get to see her and I’m not sure if anyone can top or equal Karen Berg’s portrayal but I’m sure he gave a good go at it. Adam Fogle did so well with lights and sound, you didn’t notice it. Which is the point 🙂 Joshua Burlock’s poster design is right up my alley, simple and to the point. I love it.
Overall, a fun, hilarious, and well done show! I am so happy to end 2019 on such a high note for live community theatre! If you did not get a ticket for the three original show times or the added fourth show, well then, it should teach you a lesson to buy your tickets early. I already have mine for January’s Reader’s Theatre installment of Strange Snow, directed by Don Taco, with performances January 25th and 26th. Click HERE for tickets. If Reader’s Theatre is not your bag, baby, the Majestic offers lots of variety to suit anyone’s live venue needs. Check out their website and support the arts! https://www.majestic.org/