Someone call the Surgeon General: there needs to be a warning label posted on the door of the American Globe Theatre. The Globe's production of The Importance of Being Earnest is so bubbly and fun-loving that viewers' cheeks will surely be in pain after two hours of nonstop smiling. In fact, let this review serve as a caution: with a script this clever and a company this sharp, the ache could last long after leaving the theater.
The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps the wittiest play in the English language. Oscar Wilde's comedy is a two-act epigram strewn with nonstop puns, a constant quip punctuated by ceaseless gags. The plot, in which two sets of confused admirers overcome bewilderment and their own cleverness to find love, holds a gleeful surprise in almost every line. Such brilliant writing doesn't guarantee a smooth production, however; without expert timing the dialogue tends to come off stilted or priggish.
Luckily, director Nathaniel Merchant had a keen understanding of the script as well as complete confidence in his cast. How delightful to watch high-spirited actors cheerfully chew the scenery. How refreshing to hear them taste the words rather than merely recite the lines. Merchant allowed the actors to savor each scene, and such trust rewarded both the cast and the audience
As Algernon, Peter Parks Husovsky lounged around the stage as if it were his own private living room. Such appearance of comfort is far from effortless, though Husovsky deftly made it appear easy. As Jack, David Wilcox was as fretful as Husovsky was nonchalant, and equally accomplished. Together, their timing was as precise as a stopwatch, though it never felt contrived or rehearsed. Anna Stone as Gwendolyn and Kathryn Savannah as Cecily both deserve awards for Best Actress in a Preening Role. Again, Merchant had his actors work the stage rather than just stand on it, and Stone and Savannah took full advantage of the opportunity. The two, along with the deliciously pompous Julia McLaughlin as Lady Bracknell, held a vibrant combination of sweetness and pouting that made them as charming as a basket of puppies.
The set, by J. Reid Farrington and Morgan von Prelle Pecelli, was perhaps a shade too bare, but Melissa C. Richards's costumes caught the eye, and Scott O'Brien's music held the ear.
The American Globe knows how to hurt an audience with humor. Their production of The Importance of Being Earnest was as enjoyable as anything playing on the Broadway stages 100 yards down the block. How good for the funnybone. But oh, how painful for the cheeks!
(Also featuring Rick Forestmann, Julia Levo, and Philip Rogers.)
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Copyright 2001 Ken Jaworowski