The Importance of Being Earnest: A Diverting Late Summer Evening with Oscar Wilde
The time is 1895. Jack Worthing (Gareth Saxe), who resides in the country, has created a fictitious younger brother, Ernest. Ernest ostensively resides in London. Pretending to be his own brother, Jack is free to lark about the city without endangering his good reputation. As Ernest, he has fallen in love with, and is about to become engaged to, Gwendolyn (Caralyn Kozlowski), daughter of the snooty Lady Bracknell (Jane Altman) and niece to his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff (Steve Wilson).
When Algernon finds Jack’s cigarette case with the inscription, “from little Cecily, with fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack,” Jack is bound to explain to him that the beautiful, young Cecily (Elena Shaddow) is his ward, and that because he is her guardian, he has to maintain a spotless reputation. Hence, his deception. Finding out the Hertfordshire country address of Jack and wanting to meet Cecily, Algernon arrives there, and introduces himself as the fictitious Ernest. Then, there is the matter of the provenance of Jack, who was taken in as a baby by Cecily’s grandfather after he had been found in a large handbag which had been left at Victoria Station, and the role of Cecily’s governess, Miss Prism (Susan Greenhill), in this matter.
The principal target of Wilde’s spoofery is the hypocrisy of Victorian morality. Gwendolyn and Cecily each insist that they can only love a man named Ernest. For them, it is more important that a man bear that name than that he actually be its homonym.
Solid, entertaining, appropriately stylized performances are delivered by all of the principals. However, in her archest moments, Jane Altman’s accent for Lady Bracknell does remind one of the “pedantic correctness of pronunciation” employed by actresses portraying Bernard Shaw’s Eliza Doolittle when she tries to impress Mrs. Higgins on their first outing.
Director Tamara Harvey has directed with appropriate speed and economy, embellishing the verbal humor mostly with only the visuals inherent in the text, but adding an excellent visual bit of humor for Miss Prism (and the handbag) in the final scene. She also wisely keeps things lively by keeping her actors on the move. Ms. Harvey has written delightful extended program notes, explaining and embellishing on references from the play. There is also a fascinating entry on Wilde’s apparent inspiration for a key element of his plot.
There are no real people or believable events on the New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre stage. Nor are there meant to be. What we do have is an incisive and witty verbal farce of the most sophisticated kind. It is frothy, but chockablock with social observation and criticism. It is lunatic, but loaded with words and notions which brilliantly engage the mind. It is an evening with the puckishly erudite Oscar Wilde at the top of his form. It is the estimable The Importance of Being Earnest.
The Importance of Being Earnest continues performances through October 2, 2005 (Eves: Tues. 7:30 PM (excludingluding. 9/27); Wed.-Sat. 8 PM (excluding. 9/28); Sun. 7 PM (excluding. 10/2); Mats: Sat. & Sun. 2 PM) at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, (on the campus of Drew University), 36 Madison Street, Madison, 07940; box office: 973-408-5600; online at www.ShakespeareNJ.org
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; directed by
Cast (In Order Of Appearance):