Despite its paper-thin plot, implausible coincidences and unbelievable ending, The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the funniest plays ever written. The story revolves around well-to-do Algernon Moncrieff (co-producer Keith Grumet) and John Worthing (Chris Bruno). Both men undertake (independently of one another) a harmless deception, which turns into a major misunderstanding, leading to a first-rate satire of the English class structure. The strength of the play was brought to mind all the more when held against the production's overall weaknesses.
Located firmly in the Victorian era, much of the work's original razor wit has dulled over the years to a fine comedic edge. A sense of place is essential to recreate the mood of the period, and it would have been nice to see more of a set than a long, white piece of what looked like plastic, taped to the center of a much larger stage, on which the play took place. Unlike Our Town, which works on a bare stage, Earnest cries out for the overstuffed trappings of the period.
The acting could, at best, be described as ``benign.'' The performers tried valiantly but, with the exception of Sidney Fortner, who stole the show as the grand dame, none of them could hold an English accent, which put a strain on believability. (The director tried to compensate for by having the characters go into fits of carefully choreographed overacting.) Fortunately the play's structure seems to have a built-in tolerance for the passable performance.
Attention was paid to costumes and staging, and it showed. Jessica Schreiber's outfits were quite effective and director Davidman kept the show flowing at a smooth, if not always brisk, pace.
The production picked up steam as it moved along, and by Act III the work had seamlessly shifted into a full-throttled farce, tending to obliterate memory of what had gone before. (There was also a funny bit at the end, where Chris Bruno stood on a box in order to kiss the rather tall Brooke Alexander.) Despite all the shortcomings, the play held up as a funny, frothy work.
The rest of the cast included Dana O' Neal, Sydney Penny, Kathleen Lake and Fred Armstrong. Lighting Design, Jennifer E Tanzer.
Copyright 1996 Judd Hollander
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