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St. Mark’s Players The Importance of Being Earnest

By • Oct 28th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
St. Mark’s Players
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC
Through November 7th
$20/$18 Seniors and Students/$15 Children
2:30 with one intermission
Reviewed October 23rd, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s final play. Set in 1895, the year in which it opened (and closed), the play follows the antics of John Worthing and his friend Algernon Moncrieff as they manipulate and manage Victorian society to suit their whims and avoid their obligations while satisfying their romantic desires. Wilde’s witty and slyly critical comedy of Victorian manners received only 83 performances, coming at the beginning of Wilde’s well-documented downfall.

I wish I could say I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It is possible to see the enthusiasm these actors have for the production, and the work they’ve put into staging the play in such an awkward setting. (St. Mark’s vaulted ceilings reverberate sound and the stage is set back between existing pillars.) Unfortunately, it seemed most of the cast seemed to be working far too hard at remembering lines or their place in society rather than inhabiting these well-known roles.

Earnest pivots on Wilde’s language. When that language delivered in an overly formal, stilted way, failing to flow with ease and comfort, the audience has to work harder to see these characters as alive and to find the humor in their situation.

To be sure, there are a number of places within the evening where audience laughter flows freely and there are some downright hilarious moments. The interactions between Derek Brockbank (Jack), Aimée Meher-Homji (Gwendolyn) and Elissa Hudson (Lady Bracknell) are quite good. Meher-Homji channels either Mae West or Barbara Streisand in a few well-timed jabs at Jack. In the end, it’s Ms. Hudson’s performance, together with James McDaniel‘s (perfectly cast as the long-suffering Rev. Chasuble), that make it worth the price of admission.

Ceci Albert‘s costume design tries to help set the scene; Lady Bracknell’s dress in the third act is particularly stunning (though not quite right for 1895), and the rest of the cast is dressed appropriately for the era. Scenic elements were provided by Jeff Auerbach‘s lighting design, with a few choice pieces of furniture selected by scenic designer Rick Warfield.

The ultra-modern stage scaffolding serves as more of a distraction than an aide in the production, however, and the body microphones enhanced by some careless placement caused repeated thumps, bumps and an instance of feedback that further detracted from the overall theatrical experience. In defense of the sound design, St. Mark’s can’t be the easiest space to work in-–sound goes straight to the vaulted ceiling or bounces around the stone interior. With microphones on, though, the resulting echo hardly improves the quality of sound.

St. Mark’s Players offer pre-show/intermission concessions that are rich and well selected for the period of the play. If only the production itself was as rich and tasty.

Director’s Notes

The St. Mark’s Players 27th Season is based on the theme of love. The Importance of Being Earnest glories in the idea “I think I love you.” It reeks of the notion of instant emotional entanglements and one wonders when the show ends if there really is a “happily ever after” that lasts. – Rick Hayes

Dramaturge’s Notes

The Opening Night of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895 represented the best of times and the worst of times for its celebrated playwright, Oscar Wilde. It brought forth his best play, a classic – and it also sowed the seeds of his self destruction.

Wilde’s plays were so successful that anything new from the playwright was eagerly awaited. The press was always hungry for details about plots and characters. To counter this, Wilde gave the play the working title, Lady Lansing. The use of seaside town names for leading characters, or the locations of their inception, can be recognized in all four of Wilde’s society plays – the surname of the play’s leading character, Worthing, is itself taken from the town where Wilde was staying when he wrote the play.

Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one novel. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor upon being convicted of gross indecency and various homosexual relationships. After his release from prison, Wilde set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland or Britain. Wilde spent his last three years penniless. At age 46 he died of cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900. On his deathbed he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Dennis John Lewis
Dramaturge
St. Mark’s Players

The Cast

  • John Worthing, J.P.: Derek Brockbank
  • Algernon Moncrieff: James Senavitis
  • Gwendolen Fairfax: Aimée Meher-Homji
  • Cecily Cardew: Brittany Foster Dowell
  • Lady Bracknell: Elissa Hudson
  • Miss Prism: Mary Ayala-Bush
  • Rev. Canon Chasuble: James McDaniel
  • Lane: Fairfield Butt
  • Merriman: Jerry Dale

Production Team

  • Director: Rick Hayes
  • Stage Manager: RC Bates
  • Co-Producers: Alexis Truitt, Rom Wickenden
  • Asst. Stage Manager: Rikki Howie
  • Sound Design: Eliza Bonner
  • Sound Board Technician: Heather Cipu, Brena Holman
  • Lighting Design: Jeff Auerbach
  • Lighting Board Technician: Eliza Bonner
  • Properties Master: Ceci Albert
  • Properties Assistants: Susan Sedgewick, Rose Hartmann
  • Set Design/Construction: Rick Warfield
  • Costume Design: Ceci Albert
  • Costume Construction: Ceci Albert, Susan Sedgewick, Rose Hartmann
  • Makeup Design: Paige Grayson
  • Hair Design: Grace Garner
  • Box Office Manager: Beth Hall
  • Box Office Assistants: Carol Rodeffer, Elizabeth Long
  • House Managers: Michelle Carney, Amanda Alef
  • Opening Night Party: Jim Robertson, Mary Ann Robertson
  • Photographer: Chuck Divine
  • Poster/Cover Art: Jennifer Reitz

Disclaimer: St. Mark’s Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.

2 Responses »

  1. I was there opening night and was disappointed in the price for admission ($20.00 for a non-musical). However, after settling in and accepting the limitations this cast had to work with as far as sound and cosmetics of the stage, I actually enjoyed myself.

    I thought the entire cast of non-equity actors did a fantastic job of entertaining people and the sting of the price of admission subsided quite rapidly.

  2. Being a fan of “Importance of Being Earnest” I was intrigued to see probably my 10th production of this remarkable play. The St Marks Player’s entire production was delightful. Given the restraints of the performance space, the actors showed talent, good comic timing and elan. Particular kudos to the handsome young men, they worked extremely well together, and seemed to be having as good a time as the audience. The young actress playing Cecily was among the best I’ve seen, capturing the innocence and joy of this difficult role.
    Thanks for a most entertaining evening at the theatre.