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The Importance of Being Earnest

a Play
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Oscar Wilde

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4319

SHOWING : July 05, 2012 - August 03, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Wit and innuendo abound in this satirical comedy that follows the exploits of two young men –Jack and Algernon – each masquerading as a libertine named Ernest in order to pursue his unsuspecting conquest. When they are caught in the act, a true farce unfolds, and a very real Ernest is revealed. The turn of the century brought us some of the most treasured and clever tales in literature, and those of the great Oscar Wilde are no exception. No stuffy Victorians here!
*Appropriate for ages 8 and up


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Wilde-ly Off-Target
by Dedalus
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
3.0
You can't mess with Oscar Wilde. His plays are elegant constructions filled with ridiculously eloquent characters who can't help being charming. They are also very fragile, and, if a clever director tries to impose a conceptual idea, it more often than not shatters the cloud of triviality that serious people look for in a Wilde play. Such was the case a number of years ago when Theatre in the Square flattened all the sets and props to highlight the (mis)perception of the shallowness of the story, and the whole production was, well, pretty durn flat.

Now, director Sabin Epstein and the repertory company of Georgia Shakespeare have tried to be cleverer than Wilde, and, once again, the effort fails. The entire production, though fast-paced and edited down to a fast (if incoherent) two hours, is charmless and unfunny and, not to be too blunt, downright ugly.

To start with the physical look of the show, this is an incredibly unattractive set! The three acts (different locales) are staged on a unit set consisting of a dark muddy green wall filled with doors fronted with a black-and-white tiled floor. Let's take a moment here to ponder that. A black and white tiled floor would look great in a set for a restaurant or a kitchen or a -- well, that's all I can think of now. But as part of a Victorian Sitting Room, Library, and Garden, it serves only to distract.

Any location �dressing� consists of paintings on the furniture � a semi-nude portrait for the sitting room, shrubbery for the garden, and books for the library (at one point in Act III, a character even pulls a book out of the sofa). Not only is this a concept that draws attention to itself (and away from the play), it serves no purpose (repertory needs aside) I can see unless it�s to once again suggest (erroneously) that we are seeing shallow characters in shallow situations.

Moving on to the costuming, Courtney Patterson�s Gwendolyn is forced to wear a mis-matched monstrosity that is out-of-character, out-of-period, and out-of-the-ballpark ugly. All the female characters, in fact, are given exaggerated frocks that must have been fun to design, and may admittedly make you smile when they first appear, but are decidedly wrong wrong wrong in conveying the lighter-than-air wit of Wilde and his creation. It�s as if a troupe of vaudeville clowns decided to do drawing room comedy rather than slapstick. Why the men are given traditional tuxes and Victorian formalwear I cannot even begin to fathom.

All of this may be (somewhat) forgivable if the cast were up to the not-inconsiderable challenge of making Wilde�s dialogue dance and sing. The good news is, with one critical exception, they are. As John Worthing and Gwendolyn Fairfax, Joe Knezevich and Courtney Patterson continue their run of successful pairings, brilliantly playing characters who love absurdity, elegance, and language. Ms. Patterson even makes that frightful costume seem natural (almost). Ann Marie Gideon makes Cecily Cardew a creature of guileful innocence (if you�ll forgive the oxymoron), at times petulant and stubborn, at others charming and whimsical.

In a bit of gender-reversal gimmickry, Mark Cabus dons Lady Bracknell�s gowns and haughtiness, and Megan McFarland tuxes up to play the manservant Lane. Although both do okay in the roles (I would have preferred to see Mr. (Ms.?) Cabus relish the sound of his (her?) own voice a bit more), the casting struck me as purposeless cleverosity � another �Look-at-me-I�m-a-Director� indulgence that adds nothing to the proceedings. Toss in the usual suspects (Chris Kayser, Allen O�Reilly, and Marianne Fraulo) doing their usual highly excellent �thing,� and the result should have been a parfait of a show that overcame the pseudo-cleverness of the production team.

Why the result missed by a Bunbury Mile can be laid at the feet of the production�s Algernon, Caleb Clark. This is Mr. Clark�s first season with the repertory, and, indeed, he did fine work in �Illyria� and �Much Ado.� Here, though, he gives us an Algernon who drones with a monotonously nasal voice, who doesn�t seem to grasp the �music� of Wilde, and who, frankly, goes through the play seeming bored with it all. Granted, he is made to look very much like Oscar Wilde himself, but the resemblance is only skin-deep. This is an Algernon who, in spite of his witty words, come across as country-clod dull-witted, and, frankly irritating. Algernon has some of the funniest lines ever penned in the English language, and Mr. Clark not only makes the wit seem witless, he shows no comprehension that he even �gets the joke.� Algernon is nothing if not a character amused by his own cleverness � here he is just a badly groomed oaf mangling the language and dragging the production down to that unpleasant just-off-book level of readiness.

Please forgive me if I seem too harsh, here. This is one of my all time favorite plays, and I am always very disappointed when it fails, especially when a director and a design team grossly misinterprets the self-described �trivial� nature of the plot and characters as being truly trivial and superficial (they�re not). I think most of the cast could pull this show off in their sleep. That doesn�t mean it�s the right choice to actually sleep-walk through it, as Mr. Clark seems to do.

But all this may merely be a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


�
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Only OK
by playgoer
Monday, July 16, 2012
2.5
Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is one of the funniest plays in English, in my opinion. The dialogue is full of witticisms and the plot is full of laughably transparent contrivances. In the right hands, it's a whirl of a show engendering hearty laughs. In Georgia Shakespeare's production, it's a plodding, moderately entertaining show.

Director Sabin Epstein has set a leisurely pace for the show. That, in itself, is a fatal flaw. The casting of Caleb Clark as an Oscar Wilde lookalike, in the role of Algernon Moncrieff, contributes to the problem. A languid delivery works well for an Oscar Wilde imitation, but the play does not call for this in the least. It's a distracting bit of casting and does nothing positive for the show. Mr. Clark has a nice English accent and good stage presence, but he's a pretty static center to the show.

The scenic design by Angela Balogh Calin provides a hideously unattractive unit set for the action that is supposed to take place in three distinct locales in the three acts. The back wall, with its multiple doors, is painted a mottled green with blue undertones that swears at the yellow undertones of the Astroturf-like border to the black-and-white-diamond flooring. A few puny pieces of furniture provide seating in each act, but they are downright weird. In the first and third acts, the backs and/or cushions of the furniture are covered with artwork (act one) or book bindings (act three). In act two, the tables are covered with Astroturf. I hated, hated, hated the set.

Costumes, by Christine Turbitt, are much more conventionally period. Black and white works into a couple of the dress designs, but not in a way that would lead anyone to believe that the scenic and costume designs were in any way integrated. Blocking tends to hide the faces of people wearing large hats to at least parts of the audience.

Joe Knezevich (Jack Worthing) and Courtney Patterson (Gwendolyn Fairfax) do their usual sterling work as a pair of lovers, and Ann Marie Gideon brings a nice semi-flightiness to the role of Cecily Cardew. The rest of the cast fill their roles with a general sense of British reserve. That's most disappointing in the performance of Mark Cabus as Lady Bracknell. He has shown able comic talent in previous shows, but here underplays the role to the point of somnolence. The most entertaining part of his performance, I thought, was in the fact that he took a bow with both the female members of the cast and the males.

Almost everyone had line bobbles in the early performance I saw. That will clear up during the run. The bobbles certainly derailed momentum, although there's little enough of that in this production. Critical shortcomings in set design and direction belie the promise of Clay Benning's litltingly period music selections. This could have been a terrific production of Oscar Wilde's work. Instead, it's a limping, pale reflection of Wilde's play as seen through the eyes of a director and scenic designer who felt their contributions should outweigh the source material. Bad, bad choice. What works works in spite of the production values. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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