Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, subtitled A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, is delighting audiences and runs through November 17 on the Church Hill Theatre main stage.
An international favorite since it opened in 1895, Earnest is a frothy triumph of the English language, poking fun at the (not so fine) manners of the British upper class. Wilde is sharply critical of Victorian institutions, including religion, marriage, finances and education, but with such witty humor that both audiences and the characters themselves accept preposterous plot twists with wide-eyed good humor. Jack Worthing is extremely wealthy but, as a foundling, lacks the “breeding” deemed necessary to marry Gwendolyn Fairfax, Lady Bracknell’s beautiful daughter. If Jack cannot have Gwendolyn, then his best friend Algernon, Lady Bracknell’s nephew, is no fit suitor for Worthing’s own ward, the innocent young Cecily. The four young people eventually find their own ways to true love, thwarted by Lady Bracknell and assisted (perhaps) by Cecily’s governess, Miss Prism, and the local vicar, Dr. Chasuble. The “downstairs” staff in both London and the country add their own social perspectives.
Sylvia Maloney, who more usually manages large casts of singers and dancers in the theatre’s musicals, directs the CHT revival. In a review by Peter Heck, he notes that she has “put together a talented cast.” Debra Ebersole “sails onto the stage” as the gorgon-like Lady Bracknell. Christine Kinlock “does a great job of conveying the faux sophistication” as her daughter, Gwendolyn Fairfax, and John Beck “does and outstanding job” as her nephew, Algernon Moncrieff. Jack Worthing is portrayed by “one of the best comic actors on the local scene,” Howard Mesick. Cavin Moore is “captivating” as Jack’s ward, Cecily Cardew. Sheila Austrian takes on the pivotal role of Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess; stepping in at the last minute, Brian McGunigle has the role of Dr. Chasuble; Frank St-Armor plays Lane, Algernon’s wise butler; and Jim Johnson and Ronald “Speedy” Christopher, Jr. share the role of Merriman, the servant at Jack’s country house.
Sylvia Maloney also served as producer for this production. The work of her scenarists and costumers were particularly praised by Heck in his review. Tom and Pam Rhodes designed the set while Jim Johnson and Carmen Grasso aided in its construction. Providing the wonderful Victorian costumes is Tina Johnson with Doug Kaufmann as the lighting designer and technician and Hester Sachse designing the sound. Jim Johnson and Speedy Christopher also serve as the co-stage managers. Steve Atkinson is the photographer.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs through November 17, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and on Sundays at 2 pm. Call the box office at 410-556-6003 for details and reservations.