Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
When Irish playwright Oscar Wilde was writing in the late nineteenth century, conservatism ruled society. It was a time of upper crust pomp and general disdain for the lesser classes. The University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance plunged headlong into this era Friday with Wilde’s comic poke at such stuffy society, The Importance of Being Earnest.
This is an often-produced piece, but we’ll wager you’ve not seen it quite like this before. The opening finds Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff (Gage Webster) at a piano playing with gusto and singing at the top of his voice. Nothing straitlaced in his behavior at all! Throughout, Webster exudes a playboy persona, quick to con and deceive all while enjoying himself immensely.
His butler, Lane, played by George M. Marzonie provides even more comedy with his stiff but often melancholy demeanor.
Algy is soon visited by his good friend John (Jack/Ernest) Worthing (Lucas Moquin), a fellow with an apparently much stiffer upper lip, but who is guarding a secret life as well. Moquin brings this ramrod personality to both of his “characters” garnering many chuckles in the attempt.
Both of these fellows are enamored and very close to falling in love. Worthing’s lady friend is Algy’s cousin Gwendolen Fairfax (Farrell Tatum), an impeccable, slightly haughty figure dressed in extravagant and beautiful style. Not quite the opposite, but of a more sweet, homespun and mischievous disposition, Algy’s love interest is Cecily (Dominique Hinde), Worthing’s ward.
Lady Augusta Bracknell (Shelby Coleman) rules the resident roost with her pristine Victorian sense of right and wrong and her high decibel voice. When it is apparent that John/Earnest Worthing was a foundling child left in a bag at Victoria Station, she declares the engagement null. After all, she cannot allow her niece to “form an alliance with a parcel”.
Director William Irwin describes this production as “lavish and fun” and that, sir, it certainly is. Lavish may be too a simple an explanation for Scenic Designer Tyler Rankin’s amazing gardens and observatory. It is a stunning setting for all the scurrying about that happens as each of the two gents proclaims himself to be Earnest. (Seems the ladies find that name too tempting to resist.)
We loved Act I in the London sitting room at teatime with Algy’s “musicality”, but Acts 2 and 3 are set in a country manor house and may be worth the price of admission alone. It’s simple to imagine Miss Prism (Taylor Boes) and the Rev. Chasuble (Andrew Eisengruber) strolling through the garden just beyond the ivy-laden archways. Also the interactions on the garden wall walkway between Cecily and the servant Merriman (Jordan Kinney) are sweet and well done.
Inside the glass-walled conservatory the effect is even more impressive as all of the confusion comes to its happy conclusion with many a cockeyed twist and turn in the effort.
There isn’t one weak link in this ensemble. This is a very well directed and talented cast backed up by an accomplished set and technical team. Even if you think you’ve seen Wilde’s Earnest before, have another go at this one. You will be glad you did.
The Importance of Being Earnest continues at The University of Michigan-Flint through April 2. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-237-6520 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance