by Michael Meigs
The delightful wit and frivolity of Oscar Wilde's conceit for this play and the immense seriousness his characters apply to it make The Importance of Being Earnest an enduring favorite. This is the fourth staging of the work in the region since I began writing about theatre nearly five years ago, and it never grows stale. Wilde is not Shakespeare, but his work has a similar vitality and adaptability. His razor-sharp teasing of a distinct sector of English society seems bright and new each time I see it, and the actors deliver it with refreshingly personal modulations.
Richard Robichaux casts this piece deftly and well, neatly pairing companion roles. As the devil-may-care Algernon and his slightly priggish friend Jack, Josean Rodriguez and Jon Richardson differ in aspect and attitude, but they're really alike as two peas in a pod (or perhaps as two babes in a bassinet, which is eventually more to the point).
The eligible young ladies offer another finely modulated pair. Hannah Marie Fonder as Gwendolyn has the precisely controlled chill of the very best of society, and her ice-cream elegance plays well against Sophia Franzella as Cecily, the energetic young brunette on the estate who's bored with her German lessons and eminently ready to escape if only a suitor should come calling.
And though they're not paired in the play, Barbara Chisholm and Robert Faires are paired in real life, and they provide quite different comic portrayals that are informed, vivid and veresimilar. I've carried in memory for years the aged Dame Edith Evans' haughtily crushing portrayal of the no-nonsense Lady Bracknell in a filmed version, and I was intrigued to see how Chisholm would manage one of the most adamantly comic characters of the stage. The answer, in short, is that she carries it off superbly. This Lady Bracknell is no oldie and by no means is she sexless; Chisholm delivers the ferociousness, the conviction and the dame's completely unapologetic snobbishness. And she's attractive, to boot; the wonderfully towering chapeaux provided by costume designer T'Cie Mancuso are so much a part of the character that one imagines them completely inseparable from the personality.
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