The Importance of Being Earnest
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The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington and director Keith Baxter have staged a dazzling production of The Importance of Being Earnest, featuring a cast of performers who all understand both the style and the substance of Oscar Wilde's banquet of language. Like top-level tennis players, they play off each other, keeping the lines airborne and never allowing the pace to flagand they make it look effortless.
Vanessa Morosco, Gregory Wooddell, Katie Fabel, Siân Phillips and Anthony Roach
"In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing," aristocratic Gwendolen Fairfax (Vanessa Morosco) tells heiress Cecily Cardew (Katie Fabel). Baxter understands that both style and sincerity have their place: Wilde's plot of love and misdirection offers so much pleasure on the surface level, while its eloquent epigrams conceal barbs at the expense of social pretension.
Where to begin? The ageless Siân Phillips makes her company debut as Lady Bracknell, Wilde's dragon of propriety. This indomitable lady can destroy an antagonist with the merest quirk of an eyebrow or the most offhand remark, yet maintains her charm throughout. (Many male performers have done the role in drag, which makes Phillips' innate elegance stand out even more.)
Then there are the well-groomed and beautifully spoken Gregory Wooddell as John Worthing, who calls himself "Ernest" when he visits London, and Anthony Roach as rich but feckless Algernon Moncrieff, who takes on the persona of Ernest for his own purposes. They are well matched with Vanessa Morosco as Lady Bracknell's majestic daughter (and Algernon's cousin) Gwendolen, and Katie Fabel as the deceptively innocent Cecily. Patricia Conolly and Floyd King find all the humor as Cecily's governess and a rural clergyman. Even the actors playing maids and valets understand the importance of an offhand comeback.
The lavish physical production fits the quality of the performances. Simon Higlett has created two deeply detailed sets complemented by Peter West's lighting design, Algernon's London flat (complete with baby grand piano and Chinese screen), and the garden of John's country house, and Robert Perdziola has designed magnificent gowns and sleek suits.
Shakespeare Theatre Company