Regional Reviews: Boston
Regional Reviews by Sarah Chantal Parro
The Importance of Being Earnest
Also see Nancy's review of A Christmas Story, The Musical
Wilde's play is full of mistaken identities, secret engagements, and humorous obsessions with style, decorum, and unusual romantic idealschiefly, the women's desire to marry a man named Ernest. John Worthing, our protagonist, is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax; she loves him, too, and she especially loves his name, which she thinks is Ernest. The two plan to marry despite the disapproval of Gwendolen's fierce and intimidating mother, Lady Bracknell. John's friend, Algernon Moncrieff, seeks the affections of young Cecily Cardew, John's ward. Cecily returns his love, but she doesn't know that Algernon is not exactly who he says he is. Chaos, and more than the usual amount of muffin consumption, ensues.
There is never a dull moment on stage, much thanks to Wilde's genius wit, but also due to the skills of IRNE and Elliot Norton Award-nominated director Choat and the outstanding cast. Before the play officially begins, Algernon's manservant Lane (played by Matthew Zahnzinger) appears, the stage set for Algernon's flat, and exasperatedly begins to clean up after his master's debris: empty wine glasses, papers strewn here and there, and a woman's glove stuffed between the couch cushions. Choat cleverly uses this time to introduce the audience to the world of the play before the first line of dialogue, as well as to establish character, both for Algernon (as the womanizing playboy) and Lane (as the devoted, stoic, yet not entirely non-judgmental servant, as demonstrated through his reaction to the mess). Choat's direction also lifts the play's humor above the dialogue by incorporating elements that are almost melodramatic. When characters monologue in all seriousness about the most trivial things, poignant music provides the soundtrack. The actors make ridiculous gestures and adopt comically exaggerated poses and mannerisms throughout. Both elements effectively emphasize the silliness of Wilde's play in physical, nonverbal ways.
There is no weak link in the cast, although some actors shine brighter than others. Gwendolen and Cecily are played by Cat Claus and Poornima Kirby, respectively. Claus brings performance and directing credits to her Moonbox debut, and Kirby boasts an impressive resume that includes film and commercial roles and training from LAMDA and Shakespeare & Company. Both women demonstrate their talent in Earnest. Claus is upright yet eager to achieve her eccentric, romantic dreams as Gwendolen, and Kirby is imaginative and spritely as "little Cecily."
New England theatre veteran and Actor's Equity Association member Ed Peed is perfectly casted as austere Lady Bracknell. In addition to his long list of acting credits (which include theatre, film and television), Peed has sharpened his craft as a voice actor for NPR and the BBC. I've never seen a version of the play in which this character was played by a man, but it works, both for comedic purposes and because Peed excellently captures Lady Bracknell's abrasive, hysterical, and excessively pompous nature. Glen Moore, an Equity Membership Candidate with Actor's Equity Association, brings experience in productions from several companies, including Moonbox Productions, Bad Habit Productions, and Independent Drama Society, to his performance as Algernon Moncrieff. Moore serves the character well, with comically timed eyebrow movements dominating his spot-on facial expressions.
However, it's Andrew Winson as John Worthing who steals the show. A graduate of Gordon College, Winson has been performing in the North Shore and Boston areas for much of the last decade. At 6'8" his height gets him noticed, but his exceptional acting talent is what leaves the lasting impression. From his accent and delivery to his extremely emotive facial expressions, Winson bears his character in every movement, every twitch, and every breath. He scowls condescendingly at Algernon's antics and stares, wide-eyed, dumbstruck, and shaking, in the presence of Gwendolen. Winson is certainly a strong enough actor to take on a well-known comedic lead like John Worthing, and his performance is perfect.
Not only will you be in for a great time when you go see Earnest, but you'll also get to learn about and contribute to a good cause. For every production, Moonbox spotlights a local nonprofit organization to help raise funds for and awareness about its work. For Earnest, Moonbox has partnered with High Spirit Community Farm, which provides meaningful work, a dignified home, and a rich social and cultural life to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (For more information, visit www.highspirit.org.)
The Importance of Being Earnest runs through December 14th at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm (no performance on Thanksgiving), Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $35 ($30 for students and seniors) plus fees. For tickets, call 617-933-8600 or visit www.moonboxproductions.org.
- Sarah Chantal Parro