Oscar Wilde rose to literary fame in the late 19th century by shining a light on the trivialities of Victorian life and the complexities of aestheticism. “The Importance of Being Earnest” helped catapult those topics to the forefront of social discussion and has since been one of Wilde’s most popular plays.
Wilde built his story around about the dual lives of best friends Algernon Moncrieff (played by Lance Beilstein in the Theatre Charlotte version) and John Worthing (Jon Ecklund). This show asks many questions: Can you be best friends with an impostor? Does true love exist? Do either of the former questions matter if you have naive lovers who obsess over food, diaries and money?
Director Tonya Bludsworth hits the mark with her cast selections, as there’s nary a weak link in the bunch. Beilstein’s Algernon, affectionately known as Algy, displays the perfect pinch of persnicketiness to make the character shine. Algy is a homophone to the waterborne plant residue that lacks stems, roots, and leaves. Similarly, Algernon is a shallow, bourgeois bloke deficient in the ability to think seriously about most things. He does, however, evoke the first laugh of the evening with his heavy appetite for cucumber sandwiches and his disdain for his meddling aunt, Lady Bracknell (Jill Bloede).
Bloede, who did double duty as the play’s dialogue coach, fully embraces the snobbish British accent and the haughtiness of an overbearing mother. She shoots disapproving glances at John, who attracts her lovestruck daughter Gwendolen (portrayed notably by Gretchen McGinty), and effortlessly delivers snippy jabs while wearing posh curtain-esque attire.
Costume designer Chelsea Retalic seemed to pay special attention to the mother’s and daughter’s wardrobes, draping heavy colorful fabrics about them. Set designer Joshua Webb’s simple digs didn’t scream “Victorian” with a beige settee, sheer white drapes, and wooden wing-back chairs, but they did whisper “charming.”
Ecklund is believable as John, who highlights the craftiness required to lead a double life. During his travels to London, he assumes the name Ernest. But he has convinced his family back in the country – mainly his 18-year-old ward, Cecily Cardew (Emily Klingman), and her governess, Miss Prism (Stephanie DiPaolo) – that Ernest is in fact John’s needy traveling brother, whom they’ve never met.
This trivial comedy for serious people pokes fun at everything from lust and marriage to the aristocracy to one’s desire for muffins over cake. (Algernon vehemently affirms he hates people who aren’t serious about meals.) The three-act performance is rich in paradoxical satire, much different from Wilde’s serious “Salome” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a flippant yet funny farce that allows one to giggle at the nonsensical side of life.