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Regional Reviews by Zander Opper

The Importance of Being Earnest
Playhouse on Park


Left to Right: Michael Raver, Jane Bradley, Laura Hankin, and James Parenti
Playhouse on Park is currently presenting an elegant, impeccably acted, if somewhat overlong production of Oscar Wilde's classic play, The Importance of Being Earnest.'As directed by Jerry Winters, with stunning scenic design by Christopher Hoyt and period-perfect costumes by Erin Payne, what this production definitely has going for it is a lovely sense of style and a perfect company of actors. Chief among those actors are the two male leads, Michael Raver and James Parenti, whose performances are simply sublime.

Style and a heightened level of acting are of supreme importance in putting over a work such as The Importance of Being Earnest, which is, above all, a high comedy of manners. For the first three quarters of its length, Playhouse on Park gets it right. It is at the dénouement, unfortunately, that things begin to drag a bit. Still, because of its very real assets, this production of The Importance of Being Earnest can certainly be recommended.

Truth be told, before going to Playhouse on Park, my main familiarity to this work was the lovely cast album of the 1960 Off-Broadway musical version of this play, called Ernest in Love. That being said, I found The Importance of Being Earnest to be completely enchanting, particularly as presented here, with high style and finesse. Plus, the eight member cast is pretty close to ideal, with many particularly sparkling performances.

As mentioned, the two lead actors are especially fine and they carry the show with aplomb. For those unfamiliar with the play, the plot (which is lighter than air) gets quite complicated, with more than a few moments of mistaken identity. The wonderful and handsome Michael Raver is just about ideal in the leading role of Jack, with the divinely suave James Parenti as his friend Algernon, being the perfect foil. These two performers display the precise sense of elegance that is needed for The Importance of Being Earnest to work, and they set the acting standard for the rest of the company.

As the women in their lives, Jane Bradley shines in the role of Gwendolen and Laura Hankin is quite adorable as Cecily. Also doing fine work is the funny and imposing Katrina Ferguson as Lady Bracknell, and, in supporting roles, Donna Schilke, Harrison Greene, and David M. Farrington are all you could ask for. Indeed, the combination of these artful performances, sumptuous sets and costumes, and pitch perfect direction by Jerry Winters creates quite a heady mix.

Unfortunately, all this elegance and style begins to sag in the last fifteen minutes of the show, as the final plot complications are revealed, and, ultimately, the show suffers from a feeling of over length.

Still, there is much that is praiseworthy in Playhouse of Park's production and, if one is able to look past these flaws, there is, indeed, a great deal to enjoy, especially the wonderful performances and the stylish recreation of 19th century England.

The Importance of Being Earnest continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through May 3, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at (860) 523-5900, extension 10.


Photo: Rich Wagner

- Zander Opper



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