A mild version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest takes to the Players stage.
By Kay Kipling
Fair warning: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest holds a rather special place in my heart. Although I’ve read and seen it countless times, I still revel in the brilliance of Wilde’s wit, and there are certain lines of dialogue I can repeat by heart.
I missed a few of those lines on opening night of the Players Theatre production of Earnest; it’s my guess director Pamela Wiley trimmed the play a little to fit it into a two-hour (with intermission) running time. There are still laughs to be had, though, and the characters of young men-about-town Jack Worthing and Algy Moncrieff, their respective love interests, Gwendolen and Cecily, Lady Bracknell, governess Miss Prism and rector Dr. Chasuble remain classic.
But this Earnest is a bit more mild than it is Wilde. Director Wiley has chosen to have these archetypal characters portrayed more as real people than caricatures—an understandable decision, perhaps, but when you’re used to seeing them all played to the comic hilt, one that reduces some of Wilde’s sting. The play here feels more like an amusing piece about this handful of people and their situation (replete with deceptions and confused identities), and less like any sort of social comment or satire on British society in the 1890s.
On opening night there was a line stumble or two, but nothing major, and the cast overall succeeds in maintaining the right accents and attitudes. Both Justin Irwin as Jack and Nicole Samsel as Gwendolen could alter their facial expressions more; Irwin in particular seems to have a perpetual smile of sorts on his face, even when it’s not appropriate to what he’s hearing from other characters. Jeremy Heideman and Leah Page fare rather better as the other pair of lovers, and Jan Wallace as Lady Bracknell is suitably dragonlike, although she could be even more fearsome as she lays down the law to everyone around her. Linda MacCluggage as Miss Prism, Leslie Dawley as Dr. Chasuble and David Boza in dual roles as servants Lane and Merriman all have a moment or two in the comedy spotlight.
This production of The Importance of Being Earnest won’t go down at the top of my list of productions of the play that I’ve seen, but it still provides some entertainment. The show continues through Feb. 22; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.