Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Importance of Being Earnest
The Old Globe
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Helen Carey
Photo by Jim Cox
Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is not only classic, it's practically indestructible. It can be done as a straightforward comedy of manners, or it can be "messed with" almost endlessly. The Old Globe's revival, under Maria Aitken's crisp direction, effectively eschews messing in favor of romance in the British springtime.

Set in Victorian England, Wilde introduces two "trust fund" bachelors and the women they wish to marry. To do so, however, both men must disguise themselves so they will appeal to the women—and their protectors.

Algernon Moncrieff (Christian Conn) is the city bachelor, and his friend John Worthing (Matt Schwader) lives in the country. Worthing has fallen for Algernon's cousin, The Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax (Kate Abbruzzese), and Moncrieff is intrigued that Worthing is raising a young ward named Cecily Cardew (Helen Cespedes). Worthing has been escaping the country to London frequently by claiming that he has been visiting is profligate brother, Ernest. In the city, Jack has taken Ernest's identity to avoid disclosing his country roots.

Gwendolen is interested in marrying Worthing, but she seems especially taken by his name, Ernest. Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell (Helen Carey), objects to the marriage, primarily because of Worthing's lack of an established aristocratic bloodline. In fact, Worthing was a foundling and while raised in a well-to-do home has no idea of his lineage.

Attempting to seal his marriage proposal, Worthing invites Gwendolen to his country house. Algernon overhears the address and decides to assume the identity of Ernest Worthing and arrive prior to his friend to meet and woo Cecily. Realizing what is going on, Lady Bracknell follows. Everything gets sorted out with the aid of Cecily's governess, Miss Prism (Jane Ridley), and young love triumphs over tradition and social snobbery.

To make Earnest work with the comedy-of-manners approach, a sumptuous production is needed—and the Globe provides one. Scenic designer Hugh Landwehr has created all of the sitting room of Moncrieff's town house for act one, the garden terrace of Worthing's country estate for act two, and Worthing's library, just off the garden, for act three (as well as a means of transforming the garden into the library in view of the audience). Philip S. Rosenberg has lit each set to perfection. Fabio Toblini has designed costumes that range from plain to sumptuous, depending on the station of the wearer. Fritz Patton's sound design keeps the words plain without excess amplification, and his original music aptly complements the proceedings.

The cast has been directed to play Wilde's epigram-filled text plainly: nothing over-the-top in this version. Ms. Carey's Lady Bracknell is a no-nonsense woman who knows what she wants and intimidates by her directness of speech, rather than by a haughty manner. Ms. Cespedes' Cecily is eager to take her book learning and engage with the Londoners on their level; she is not as wide-eyed as she might be and utterly charming for the acting choice. Ms. Abbruzzese's Gwendolen walks a fine line between being too taken with herself and standing up for what—and whom—she wants. The suiters are not rogues, and their ruses are quickly discovered and dismissed as harmless. Ms. Ridley sparkles as a woman who has her own secrets and whose world stretches further than the books she teaches. Sam Avishay, Daniel Harray and Rodney Gardiner capably round out the cast as household staff and the parish cleric.

This lovely production will more than satisfy a family outing to see a classic—you can bring the kids and their staid grandmother, and all will be well. Those who hope for a "wilder" take (and I count myself among this group) will need to settle for this version's pleasures or be disappointed.

The Importance of Being Earnest, through March 4, 2018, on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at the Old Globe Theatre's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting The performance schedule is Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm (dark on Mondays).