Sunday, April 20, 2014

Faulkner: "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Oscar Wilde's brilliantly witty The Importance of Being Earnest is Matt Dickson's first directing project at the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre. Mr. Dickson also serves as Faulkner's Technical Director and is the Scenic Designer for this production -- quite a few hats that he wears with distinction. His impressive resume as an actor and designer (along with a stint behind the scenes at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival) gives him ample credibility to venture into directing, and the choice of Earnest allows him to create three detailed evocative sets for each of the play's three acts, and to guide a small ensemble of experienced and relatively new actors through the charm and silliness of Wilde's plot.

Two bachelor friends -- witty and supercilious city-dweller Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff [Joe Vasquez] and steadier John (Jack) Worthing [Blake Williams] -- each lead double lives. Algy has invented a chronically sick friend named Bunbury so he can escape family and city responsibilities, and Jack escapes the country pretending to be Ernest in town where he plans to propose marriage to Algy's sophisticated cousin Gwendolyn [Jesse Alston]. -- When Algy discovers Jack's ruse, he learns that his friend is the guardian of a pretty young girl named Cecily [Brittney Johnston]; he determines to meet her, and he maneuvers Gwendolyn's formidable mother Lady Bracknell [Angela Dickson] out of the way so Jack can propose.

Lady Bracknell refuses the match between Ernest and Gwendolyn when in her interview she finds out that Ernest has no social connections, and that he was a foundling left in a handbag at Victoria train station. But, enamored by the name of "Ernest" Gwendolyn secretly determines to visit her Ernest in the country, a plan that Algy overhears and which sets his own plan in motion to meet with Cecily pretending to be Ernest before Jack returns.

Cecily is being tutored by Miss Prism [Alicia Ruth Jackson], a very prim and proper spinster who is infatuated by the Rev. Dr. Chasuble [Brandtley McDonald]. Cecily has romanticized views of marriage, and has been "in love" with her Uncle Jack's rapscallion brother Ernest for some time, so when Algy shows up as Ernest, they instantly agree to get married.

On Gwendolyn's arrival in the country, she meets Cecily and both women claim to be engaged to Ernest; their tea party manners are tested to the fullest until Jack arrives in mourning, telling them that his brother Ernest died from a severe chill, only to find Algy there pretending to be Ernest.

Much confusion, of course, that the ensemble actors handle with considerable aplomb; and when Lady Bracknell storms in to rescue Gwendolyn and sees Miss Prism, everything comes to a head. Miss Prism, it seems, was once a servant to Algy's parents and had absentmindedly deposited an infant she was caring for in a handbag and left it in the cloakroom of Victoria Station -- and the mystery of Jack's parentage is solved, and it turns out his name is actually Ernest John...a very happy ending for all.

Only a few minor quibbles with this production. The Faulkner actors turn in creditable work in interpreting Wilde's witty script, notwithstanding a few projection inconsistencies and imprecise diction so necessary in such a mannered play. And the contemporary sound of their voices and modern postures and movement belie the otherwise detailed period look and feel of this show.