Monday, May 17, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest – by Oscar Wilde

by Joe Straw

Something remarkable happened in the second act of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (more on this later). Directed by Drew Fitzsimmons and presented by the Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse, this wonderful production will be playing through June 12, 2010. 

Drew Fitzsimmons, making his directorial debut, showed signs of understanding the craft and keeping the show visually exciting and moving at a steady pace.  The characters were a bit more complex than recent productions and moments were extremely funny and exciting to watch. 

The cause may be the director himself, Mr. Fitzsimmons.  The Kentwood Players have taken steps to ensure an ongoing continuity of successful community theatre this season.  In the sincerest way, it is a move in the right direction.

That being said not everything works.  It would be absurd to say so. But what does?  And who was that funny man?

Westchester Playhouse is the only theatre where all the patrons run out after the first act onto the sidewalk in search of a cigarette.  And looking at all these people clamoring for their fix, one notices that no one carries a cigarette case anymore, especially with an inscription in it, which is what our story is about. Pulling out a case today, people would think you were (eh hem) “different”.

As the play begins, Lane (Will Meister), the butler, and Algernon Moncrieff (Lorenzo Bastien) are having a discussion about the inferior quality of the wine in married households when a Mr. Ernest Worthing (Joshua Nelson) arrives. Worthing and Moncrieff are friends, and up to the present time confirmed bachelors. Ernest is slightly older but Algernon is smarter than his counterpart simply because of his upbringing: better educated, bon vivant, and muffin lover. 

Worthing’s visit into town has but one objective.

“I am in love with Gwendolen.  I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.” - Jack

But Algernon will not give his consent to marriage to his first cousin until a little mystery is unraveled.  He has discovered a cigarette case belonging to “Jack” which is the property of his dear friend, Ernest.  In it, the inscription:  “From little Cecily with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack”. Clearly, this intimate friendship needs a little explanation. Algernon discovers his friend Ernest is none other than Jack and this only after a number of absurd denials.

“Now, go on.  Why are you Ernest in town and Jack in the country? - Algernon

Ernest explains it’s a matter of reputation of being more carefree (wicked) in the city and holding a higher moral tone when he is in the country with his ward. Algernon says he has something similar in “Bunbury”, a fictitious invalid he uses as an excuse to get out of all sorts of things. Algernon call himself a Bunburyist.

Expectantly, Lane introduces Lady Bracknell (Carmen Lynne) and her daughter Gwendolen Fairfax (Marcy Agreen) and in due course finds out that Ernest wants to propose to Gwendolen.  And Gwendolen likes the idea because he has the name Ernest that is her overriding factor in her conquest for true love.

But Lady Bracknell, after an interrogation of Ernest, finds out about his past and does not find him suitable for her darling Gwendolen. Ernest is perplexed by this unexpected animadversion.  

“I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.” – Lady Bracknell

Undaunted, and understanding that true love has no obstacles, Ernest invites Miss Fairfax to his country home unbeknownst that Algernon is taking down the information.

In the country Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (Jessica Hayes) is being schooled by her governess Miss Prism (Judy Ewing) when Merriman (also Will Meister) presents Mr. Ernest Worthing (really Algernon) and declares he is there for a visit. 

Algernon immediately falls in love with Cecily.  He also finds out that Cecily is in love with the name Ernest, his wicked ways, and will have no other. Algernon says he is not wicked. 

I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.  That would be hypocrisy. - Cecily

Not to be undone Miss Prism has a slight infatuation with Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D. (Ron Edwards) and they walk into the garden.  Love is all around.  But Algernon hunts for Dr. Chasuble to christen him Ernest.

Meanwhile Gwendolen arrives unexpectedly and has a chat with Cecily when they discover Ernest has proposed to both of them.

I shall not go on any further. It would be absurd to do so. 

Fitzsimmons has put together an exciting cast. 

Bastien as Algernon just got better as the night wore on, and was fantastic in the second act. Nelson as Worthing was equally appealing managing his double life to ridiculous extremes.  Although they were the best of friends (brothers you might say) the give and take demanded a little more from those moments in the first act. 

Lynne as Lady Bracknell was engaging but could have hit her emotional marks with the bulleyes needed in this play.  But she was delightful nevertheless.

Agreen as Gwendolen has a charm about her but the slightly distracting asides were overbearing. Relationships are much more dramatic without turning to look at the fourth wall and expressing one’s dogmatic views.  It’s absurd to think otherwise.

Ewing was appealing as Miss Prism and has a marvelous exit the audience found quite charming.

Hayes as Cecily Cardew was a surprising twist to casting but nevertheless she was marvelous and quite remarkable in her craft.  She is a simple but complex joy.

Mayes as Gribsby as a solicitor in this alternate version of “Earnest” was quite good but his performance as Moulton was hilarious!  His teacher, Nina Foch, would have been proud.  Mayes was that funny man!

There is oddness about Edwards as Dr. Chasuble that is appealing and engaging. 

Meister as Lane and Merriman was as droll as a butler can be and while there were funny bits more could be discovered from this character.  But nevertheless very enjoyable.

Fitzsimmons has done a fine job! The remarkable thing about The Importance of Being Earnest was that in the second act it all came together.  A pleasing way to end the week and there’s nothing absurd about that. 

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