The Importance of Being Earnest
Also see Susan's review of Paradise Lost
The Importance of Being Earnest is the latest theatrical work offered up by Arena Stage. The Oscar Wilde comedy deals with the mischief caused by mistaken identity and folly of love. Directed by Everett Quinton, this mounting is full of charm in spite of a few problems.
The Importance of Being Earnest features a lovesick John Worthing. In order to escape to the city, he invents a brother named Earnest. John’s excursions to see his wayward “brother” allow him to see his beloved Gwendolen. However, while in town he assumes the mantel of Earnest. Complications arise when he proposes to Gwendolen and learns that she will only marry a man named Earnest. The situation doesn’t improve when John’s friend Algernon takes on the moniker as well.
The play itself is very amusing. It is intelligently written and certainly keeps the actors on their toes. The cast is quite strong and they handle the material well. Michael Skinner is outstanding as Earnest/John. His most successful moments are with Ian Kahn as Algernon. Kahn is wonderfully foppish and rather endearing in the role. Susan Lynskey, a face familiar to Washington theatergoers, plays Gwendolen. Miss Lynskey plays up the character’s independence in an effective way. As Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknel, Claudia Robinson overplays just a touch, but she is still enjoyable to watch. Their fellow castmates Hugh Nees (Lane/Merriman), Helen Hedman (Miss Prism), and Marybeth Wise (Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D.) all turn in excellent performances. Marybeth Wise is especially good as the reverend. Watching her, it is easy to forget that one is watching a female do a male’s part.
There is one key role that is poorly cast. That is the role of Cecily. Tymberlee Chanel projects the right spirit for the role. She also makes an attractive Cecily. Unfortunately, there are elements in her portrayal that act as a distraction. The most obvious one is her English accent. While the others in the cast speak with a consistent accent, Miss Chanel’s comes and goes. The result is that one tends to concentrate on the pronounciation of her words rather than their content. Additionally, Miss Chanel seems to break out of character at times, leaving her delivery sounding modern and out of place with the era being portrayed.
Zack Brown designed both the set and the costumes. Surrounded by towering gold flowers, the set is filled with furnishings that are appropriate for the times. Although he succeeds with the set, his costumes suffer. The garb designed for the men works well. However, the women’s frocks are a bit garish.
Wilde enthusiasts may not be completely satisfied with this production. However, it is an enjoyable piece despite its flaws. The Importance of Being Earnest has two intermissions and runs through December 26th.
Arena Stage – The Fichlander Theatre
Algernon Moncrieff: Ian Kahn