Oscar Wilde and wit are practically synonymous. Wilde's use of language, melodrama and satire have brought his plays much deserved attention from theater lovers of all experience levels. The Importance of Being Earnest is one of his last and best-known plays. Called a trivial comedy for serious people, it is almost more of a trivial comedy about people who take themselves too seriously—to disastrous avail.
In this satire of aristocracy, Wilde puts two proper men in an unusual predicament. The play opens with Algernon Moncrieff and Earnest Worthing nearly bragging about the alter egos each use to get out of "proper society" and into boyish fun. Earnest confesses that he is not Earnest at all, but goes by that name in the city, and Jack, his real name, in the country. To those in the country, Earnest Worthing is his misfit brother who always gets into trouble. Jack also confesses his wish to marry Algernon's cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax, so Earnest must be no more. After an extremely flawed proposal, Gwendolen accepts Jack, and reveals her heart's desire to marry a man named Earnest, putting Jack in a tough spot. Topped with the disapproval of Gwendolen's mother, Lady Brackenell, due to his unknown parentage, madness and confusion ensues.
At a loss, Jack decides to "kill off" his brother Earnest and then take his name—a solution to his problem with Gwendolen. After announcing his brother's death, his young ward, Cecily Cardew, enters to inform him that his brother has arrived for a visit. In a wonderfully predictable change of deception, out walks Algernon posing as Earnest Worthing. Cecily is pleased with his arrival and the two are quickly engaged, fueled by Cecily's childhood dream of marrying a man named Earnest.
Now Jack and Algernon believe they must be renamed Earnest to be with their lady loves. When they both run to Rev. Canon Chasuable for christening ceremonies, it leaves a perfect opportunity for Gwendolen and Cecily to meet and throw seething remarks at each other, believing they are both engaged to Earnest Worthing. Not to fret, it all works out thanks to the discovery of a missing handbag, the truth about Cecily's assets and the discovery of just who among them is the most Earnest.
The wit of Wilde was alive in this production, but it was stifled at times. Some of the jokes were lost in poor delivery and monotonous audience asides. The characters played to their melodramatic extremes provided the best vehicle for the humor in the script, especially in Algernon (Brandon Sciarrotta), the Rev. Chasuable (Phil Bock) and Cecily (Emily Windler). The first act was rough, with the butler being the most intriguing character on stage, but the production got better with each act.
The only indication that this production was set in the '30s, versus the late 1800s, were the excellent costumes. The pin-striped suits, fedoras and period dresses really brought a vivid quality that enhanced the simple and effective set.
The thrust theater within the Adobe did this play no justice. The blocking was focused on the middle section, leaving many actors in crucial scenes with their backs to half the audience or upstaging each other while putting away dishes or pretending not to overhear conversations.
If you've never seen Oscar Wilde's work on the stage, this production will give you a nice first taste of what he has to offer. It has some brilliant moments, some memorable characters and, despite its blatant social commentary, this is a feel-good romantic comedy on par with A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Importance of Being Earnest, a play by Oscar Wilde, directed by Leigh-Ann Santillanes, runs through Jan 29. at the Adobe Theater (9813 Fourth Street NW). Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. $12 general, $10 students/seniors. 898-9222.