TR Robertson…..A comedy classic is currently on stage in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage filled with enough silliness, one-liners, switched identities and over-the-top personalities to make your evening at the theatre one to remember. Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” was the final play he wrote and is considered a classic in the theatre world, called, by the London Telegraph, “the most perfect comedy in the English language” and the performance at The Old Globe more than does the accolades justice.
Wilde was an Irish poet, novelist and playwright who wrote in the late 1800’s. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray published in 1890, was criticized for “decadence, moral ambiguity and allusions to homosexuality”. Since his death, the novel is now considered one of the best works from this time period. Homosexuality, in the England of Wilde’s life, was considered a crime and punishable by imprisonment.
Wilde’s final play, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, premiered on Valentine’s Day in 1895, to public acclaim and critical apathy. A series of unfortunate incidents involving the Marquess of Queensbury, the father of Wilde’s romantic partner, Lord Alfred Douglas, would lead to a charge of “gross indecency” against Wilde and a trial and a guilty verdict resulting in a two year sentence of hard labor. Wilde would be released in 1897, move to Paris and pass away destitute in 1900.
There is no doubt that Wilde lived a life of “Bunbury”, double lives, pretending to be someone else other than his “real” life. Wilde was married for a while and had two children. He began a series of affairs with younger men during his marriage. His double life would have certainly led him to staying in the Gentlemen only clubs of London, to carry on his affairs. “The Importance of Being Earnest” doesn’t involve his homosexual affairs, but does involve men of status who are leading a double life to enjoy life from different perspectives and to win the hearts of women they are interested in.
Photos supplied by Old Globe
A stellar cast of veteran actors and actresses keep the audience spell bound during the over 2 hour performance as the twisted plot unfolds. As the curtain rises, a colorful, Pageant of the Masters type set appears and we meet Algernon Moncrieff, played by Christian Conn, making his Globe debut. Algernon is a pompous, somewhat arrogant gentleman, sworn to remain a bachelor, who has been a scoundrel most of his life. His butler, Lane, played by Daniel Harray, also making his Globe debut, enters to introduce Algernon’s friend, John Worthing, played by Matt Schwader, another Globe “newbie”. All three of these men have extensive theatre, television and film backgrounds and this is obvious from the moment they step on stage. Algernon discovers John has been leading a double life, enjoying spending time in the quiet solitude of the country away from the stress of London as Jack and Earnest in the city, but he has fallen in love with Algernon’s niece, The Honorable Gwendolen Fairfax. John says, “When one is in town, one amuses oneself, when one is in the country, one amuses others”. Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell, disapproves of Earnest (John) marrying Gwendolen as he just doesn’t have the “status” needed for her in London society. Lady Bracknell is played by Broadway and award winning actress Helen Carey. Gwendolen is played by Kate Abbruzzese, who is also an award winning actress who has performed in numerous theatres throughout the United States.
In Act II, Algernon decides to see what the country has to offer and assumes the name of Ernest as his hidden identity. While visiting John’s home, he meets John’s ward, Cecily Cardew. Cecily is played by another veteran actress trained at The Juilliard School, Helen Cespedes, who has also performed around the country and in numerous television shows. Algernon falls for Cecily, much to John’s concern. Without giving too much more away as to the result of the various romantic affairs, you will also meet Miss Prism, who will play a major role in the play and you will see what has been called, “the most famous handbag in all of theatre”. Miss Prism is played by Jane Ridley, making her Globe debut. Rounding out the cast is Sam Avishay who plays Merriman, a handy man who works at Worthing’s country estate and Rodney Gardiner as The Rev. Canon Chasuble.
The play goes through numerous twists and turns, much to the pleasure of the audience. “Truth is rarely pure and never simple”, as spoken by Algernon, is the underlying theme of the play and the cast does a masterful job of displaying Wilde’s presentation.
Director Maria Aitken is directing her first play at The Globe. She has an extensive background as an award winning actress, a teacher, and director. Assisting her is Hugh Landwehr, Scenic Designer, who has worked on Broadway designing scenery. The props, backdrops and sets are splendid. The library in Act III is a very large, impressive set and Algernon’s drawing room in Act I sets the colorful tone for the play. Beautiful period costumes are designed by Fabio Toblini, Lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg, Music and Sound by Fitz Patton and English voice and dialect coach David Huber all assisted in creating the perfect English aristocratic setting.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” will play until March 4th. Ticket prices start at $30.00 and can be purchased by calling 619-234-5623 or go to www.TheOldGlobe.org.