Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is surely one of the best and funniest uses of the mistaken (or in this case, pretended) identity plot in dramatic history. Completely absurd without being silly, Victorian without being stuffy, it’s one of my all-time favorite plays from one of my all-time favorite writers. You know that game where you decide which three dead people you’d have over for dinner, if you could? Well, I only need one, and that’s Oscar. All this is to say, I had high expectations for the Footlight Players’ production of his masterpiece.
So it was wonderful to see them having so much fun with the play, embracing the ridiculousness of their own characters as they danced through the airy dialogue and the many twists and turns of engagements and familial ties. For those who are rusty on the plot, two frivolous Englishmen, whom we at first know as Ernest Worthing and Algernon Montcrieff, have created imaginary identities whose purpose is to get them out of unpleasant obligations. Ernest, it turns out, is living a double life as Ernest in London and Jack in the country, while Algernon uses his poor, nonexistent invalid friend Bunbury as an excuse to get out of London whenever he likes. A woman whose secret wish has always been to marry someone named Ernest and an “excessively pretty” young girl of only 18 complicate things, with the name of Ernest ingeniously at the heart of it all.
The Footlight Players cast did wonderful justice to the play, English accents and all. The cast was uniformly strong, although Michael Keene as Jack Worthing was really exceptional, skillfully walking the delicate balance between Jack’s apparent levelheadedness and his true absurdity. Keene’s attention to gesture, facial expression, and numerous other small details, brought Jack to life as he is written in the play: as the one and only person who is truly three-dimensional.
Avery Cole as the pretty, flighty young Cecily Cardew shook her golden curls to great effect, and seemed to be having lots of fun, as anyone would, with the spoiled and naïve Cecily. Whether pouting, beaming, or relating her fantasy engagement to the fiancé she just met, Cole was perfect in her expression of the role. Steven Moskos as Algernon played the dandy through and through, with all the self-satisfaction and indifference to others that somehow makes Algernon so endearing. Caroline Boegel played the worldly, calculating Gwendolen Fairfax to perfection, and Susie Hallatt threw herself into the role of the cartoonish Lady Bracknell, making the most of every ridiculous pronouncement she utters — and there are many.
Lisa Benson and E. Karl Bunch, who played the prim Miss Prism and the unintentionally suggestive Dr. Chasuble, acted their characters’ put-on innocence with comic effect, while Scott Cason in a double role created two highly different, but very funny, versions of the knowing butler in a crazy upper-class household.
Finally, the fancy Victorian sets were beautiful, and the one long-ish wait that was required to change from garden to drawing room between Acts Two and Three was completely worth it.
All in all, The Importance of Being Earnest was a greatly enjoyable evening of the kind of high-minded, witty theater that can be so refreshing. So next time you feel the need for some humor that isn’t based on an internet meme, head over to Queen Street and take in this excellent production.