The Importance of Being Earnest

“There is something undeniably delightful, even uplifting, about watching actors basking in the joy of inhabiting lovingly drawn characters delivering witty dialogue filled with humor and/or insight. To watch a skilled cast reveling in the joy of a master’s work always glues a smile to my face.

So it is with Aurora Theatre Company’s production of the most famous and well-respected of Oscar Wilde’s plays, the silly, snarky, satirical—and brilliant—The Importance of Being Earnest. Yes, its treatment of women is outdated, it relies on far-fetched coincidences and ridiculous plot twists, and people fall in love at first sight and propose marriage moments later, but clever lines come at you like the chocolates in that famous “I Love Lucy” episode: faster than you can comfortably manage, yet still overwhelming you with pleasure.

 

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Director Josh Costello seems to recognize the challenges of staging a classic play that many in his audience will likely have already seen; he occasionally has his actors deliver their lines as asides to the audience or to interact with them in other ways, almost as a way of saying “let’s not pretend you don’t know what’s going on here.” He also pulls lovely comic performances from a skilled cast, especially Patrick Kelly Jones who plays Algernon Moncrieff, the charming rogue at the heart of the play.

As Algernon, Patrick Kelly Jones is marvelously restrained, with a droll delivery of even his most cutting remarks. He shares Wilde’s bon mots almost as though they were glittering stars trailing in the wake of a magical creature: spectacular to us, ordinary to him. He smiles like a man unsheathing his sword for a battle in which he is supremely confident of victory. I could have watched him for another 2.5 hours.

He is well-supported by a solid cast. Though none captured my attention the way Jones did, all bring their own charm to the proceedings. Mohammad Shehata feels appropriately put-upon and abused by his friend, and delightfully besotted when in the presence of Anna Ishida’s Gwendolen, who presents a marvelous sense of superiority, with perfect posture and regal bearing. As the Lady Bracknell, Sharon Lockwood can kill with the raise of a single eyebrow, nearly decapitating Ernest/Jack with a glare upon their first meeting. As Cecily Cardew, Ernest/Jack’s ward, Gianna DiGregorio Rivera brings an appropriately youthful energy, playing sweetly—but effectively—with both her scene partners and the audience. Michael Torres does a wonderfully dark, dour turn at Algernon’s butler Lane, and turns up the comedy in act two with a more earnest portrayal of the Shropshire Reverend Canon Chasuble.

The show is lovely to look at, as well, with an elegant art nouveau set by Nina Ball, and terrific costuming by Maggie Whitaker. She dresses Algernon in a lovely violet suit (that somehow doesn’t come off as foppish) in act one and a lovely plaid ensemble for acts two and three. Ernest/Jack’s pale green vested suit in acts two and three is also a lovely complement to the character (even if Algernon quips that “I’ve never seen anyone take so long to dress with such little result.”), and Gwendolen sports delicately patterned harem pants and a cropped jacket that accent both the sterner and softer aspects of her character.

Even if you’ve seen The Importance of Being Earnest, even more than once, there are still depths to be plumbed in Wilde’s work, and Josh Costello, Aurora Theatre Company—and the cast they have assembled—will repay your attendance with a charming, comforting, captivating night of theatre.”

-Patrick Thomas, Talkin’ Broadway