The Importance of Being Earnest
It is indeed unusual to see Oscar Wilde's most classic comedy being performed on an outside stage among the beautiful brown hills of California. The California Shakespeare Festival has included The Importance of Being Earnest as part of their 2004 Season. The social parody of the Victorian era is sometimes called a trivial comedy for serious persons.
Wilde's comedy opened at the St. James Theatre in London on February 14, 1895 to an astounded audience who was used to Victorian melodramas. The play was an instant success and it has been playing in revivals ever since that memorable date. This wit-laden masterpiece has many famous quotes about the impediments of one John Worthing, who was found as a baby in a handbag left in Victoria Station and was named by his guardians for a famous seaside resort on the Brighton Line. Complications pile upon complications regarding the name Earnest, his imaginary wild-living brother, his best friend Algernon who is somewhat of a smug dandy and somewhat "Earnest" (a word used by the homosexual underground in Victorian times for someone who is gay), an imperious Lady Bracknell who is a creation of upper-class dignity and duplicity, and an almost-18-year-old ward who is in love with Earnest's imaginary brother whom she has never met.
The Importance of Being Earnest's brilliantly funny work remains fresh and the playwright's astonishing use of language and elegantly drawn characterizations still hold up in today's world. Noted critic Max Beerbolm said of the comedy, "the play was unlike any other, and in its kind still seems perfect."
Director Jonathan Moscone has assembled an excellent cast and has many of the characters becoming almost slapstick in their actions. Andy Murray as Algernon puts a new spin on the man about town character who is full of Wilde's witty remarks. One could say he is "very earnest" in his acting as he prances about in boxer shorts at the beginning of the three-act farce. Anthony Fusco as Jack Worthing plays straight man to his best friend Algernon. Domenique Lozano plays the role of Lady Bracknell brilliantly and is never brainless or even unaware of her own nature. The young ladies who are the affections of Algernon and John are charmingly played by Julie Eccles (Gwendolyn) and Susannah Schulman (Cecily). Nancy Carlin is heavily made up as Miss Prism and is very good as the prim and proper teacher while L. Peter Callender as the Rev. Canon Chasuble is delightful in his manner of speaking and his romantic interest in Miss Prism.
Kate Edmunds has designed a small moveable set for each of the three acts. The first act features back cartoon-type drawings of a fashionable bachelor's pad in Victorian times with several props, such as a baby grand piano and some oriental cushions that were popular at the time. The audience gets a good view of the the real woods and hills in back of the stage. The third act has a gigantic photographic head of Oscar himself looking down at the actors on the stage. Katherine Roth's costumes are beautiful and very authentic for the Victorian period.
The Importance of Being Earnest ran through September 5th at the Brun Memorial Amphitheater, 100 Gateway Blvd, Orinda, Ca just off Highway 24 at the Shakespeare Festival Way/Gateway Exit. For tickets call 510-548-9666 or go on line at www.calshakes.org. The last show of the 2004 season will be William Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well which opens on September 18 and runs through October 10.