Shakespeare Theatre Company The Importance of Being EarnestBy Barbara Trainin Blank • Jan 29th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Shakespeare Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through March 9th
2:30 with two intermissions
$20-$115 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed January 26th, 2013
Expectations run high for any production of The Importance of Being Earnest, arguably Oscar Wilde’s greatest play (in any case, his last and best known) and maybe one of the cleverest, period.
In this “trivial comedy for serious people,” Wilde demands that his characters be inane as well as witty and insightful, while never realizing they are any of these things. Not to mention they are ephemeral in their moods and opinions and self-contradictory, as when Gwendolyn Fairfax, declares, “I never change, except in my affections.”
While poking fun at social conventions and etiquette — and inversely, the lack of them — Wilde has created stage people who take themselves deadly seriously, while he refuses to. Mistaken identities (à la Shakespeare) are at the heart of the play, but we never see the two male leads in those other guises. We only know that John Worthing is “Ernest” in the city, and Algernon pretends to be his brother.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Earnest meets many of the hurdles, though it takes a bit of time to warm up to them.
Anthony Roach (Moncrief) and Gregory Wooddell (Worthing) at first seem tentative in both the silliness and wit, although the delicious dialogue between Moncrief and his butler, Lane (an admirably low-key Todd Scofield) is sharply focused. The arrival of other characters later in the act and even more surely in Act II seem to ignite the liveliness. Roach and Wooddell then fall right in their portrayal of two men who have deep rapport, when they’re not ribbing or “blackmailing” one another.
The energy is helped along by the chemistry between Vanessa Morosco (Gwendolyn) Fairfax) and Katie Fabel (Cecily Cardew) as the two men’s love interests who are not quite as different from one another as they think.
It’s a delight to see Sian Phillips, newly an octogenarian, on stage, since she is best known in this country for her Emmy-winning role as the murderous Livia in the BBC-TV series “I, Claudius.” Phillips is a slimmer, more fashionable Lady Bracknell — who is every bit as self-made as Worthing — than usual and decidedly a woman. (Director Keith Baxter has broken with the tradition of casting males.)
Yet, she is also a little less imperious and more self-aware of the effect she has on others than might be expected.
More than other Gwendolyn I’ve seen, Morosco gives us a glimpse of what she might become if her romantic happiness falls flat — her mother, Lady Bracknell.
Patricia Conolly, in the smaller but pivotal role of Miss Prism, invests the role with a little more dignity and less silliness than it is often given — fortuitously.
As her late-in-life love interest, Dr. Chausable, Floyd King is even more human (although, of course, in Wilde’s hands, still a bit silly).
Logan DalBello (footman), John O’Creagh (Merriman) and Lee McKenna (Irish maid) round out the cast.
Of course, the star in Earnest is the language, and director Baxter gives Wilde’s wit its due. But he also reminds us that the play is a farce, adding several touches of physical comedy that may not be seen in other Earnests.
From the exaggerated muffin fight to Moncrief’s emphatic piano playing that opens the play, from Worthing’s collapse on the couch to his throwing the handbag out the window rather than handing it to Miss Prism in a gentler manner, Baker emphasizes (without hitting anyone on the head with it) that verbal witticisms need not be the only repertory of these memorable characters.
Other distinctive touches include the incidental music that opens each act — by Richard Addinsell. The set design by Simon Higlett drew ahs’s from the audience, especially for the lovely and evocative (you could practically smell the flowers) in the Worthing Manor House.
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Algernon Moncrieff: Anthony Roach
- Lane: Todd Scofield
- Footman: Logan DalBello
- John Worthing: Gregory Wooddell
- Lady Bracknell: Siân Phillips
- Gwendolen Fairfax: Vanessa Morosco
- Miss Prism: Patricia Conolly
- Cecily Cardew: Katie Fabel
- Dr. Chasuble: Floyd King
- Merriman: John O’Creagh
- Irish Maid: Lee McKenna
Direction And Design
- Director: Keith Baxter
- Set Designer: Simon Higlett
- Costume Designer: Robert Perdziola
- Lighting Designer: Peter West
- Sound Designer: Jason Tratta
- Composer/Arranger: Kim D. Sherman
- Wig Designer: Paul Huntley
- New York Casting: Stuart Howard and Paul Hardt
- Resident Casting Director: Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
- Voice and Text Coach: Gary Logan
- Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
- Assistant Director: Samip Raval
- Production Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
- Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley
Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10097.
Barbara Trainin Blank has been writing features, previews, and reviews about theater and the arts for some 25 years. A native New Yorker, she is a recent transplant to Maryland.