Wild about Wilde

Ellen Carpenter

Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is one of those plays that will always be good. You can read it alone, curled up on your couch with a cup of coffee, or you can see a dreadful production at a community theater where all of the leads are 20 years too old, but the jokes still will be funny and fresh. You still will appreciate Wilde’s clever dialogue and his witty asides, and you still will tear-up at the end, even though everything works out for the best.

Seeing a good production of Wilde’s comedy, then, is like falling in love and discovering the person you fancy loves you back. Think of the Theatre and Interpretation Center’s current undertaking of “Earnest” as that first realized college crush – sweet and fulfilling, and all-around fun.

Wilde takes a stab at one of Shakespeare’s most famous questions in “Earnest”: Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? His answer, of course, is no – you might as well forget the rose ever existed. In this case, it’s the name Earnest that holds so much sentimental value. Two friends, Algernon and Jack, both pose as Earnests to win the love of Cecily and Gwendolen, two fair but fatuous young ladies who are quite taken with the name. Actually, they’re so taken with the gentle, kind name that it would be unheard of to marry a man without it. Add in a rigid old aunt, a flighty tutor, a confused reverend and two complying butlers, and comedy ensues.

Third-year Speech graduate student Anjalee Deshpande’s direction of this talented group of undergraduates is charming and precise. At times it seems overly choreographed, causing interactions between the characters to appear unnatural. But the staging never distracted from the story. Though the energy in the first act was lacking, by the second act all the actors seemed to be enjoying both themselves and Wilde’s wildly amusing words just as much as the audience did.

Leading the cast is Speech sophomore Brad Love, who so embodies the mischievous Algernon it seems as if it is Love himself who delights in cucumber sandwiches, mini muffins and men’s fashion. His exaggerated facial expressions are never too much, and his sense of timing is just right. Speech senior Liz Dayton portrays Lady Bracknell as a hilariously stuffy and overwhelming presence. Speech junior Matt McKenna, though practically unrecognizable under a pair of thick sideburns, makes his Rev. Canon Chasuble one of the most memorable characters of the show despite the part’s small size. Sadly, some of his funniest lines were lost in the laughter from the students in the audience who were surprised to see their classmate look convincingly like a 45-year-old preacher. He and Speech junior Maureen Towey, who plays the governess Miss Prism, have wonderful onstage chemistry.

Accents falter occasionally, causing some of the characters to come across as Southern belles rather than British aristocrats, but in the long run, the confused diphthongs don’t mar the positive production.

Although the acting, for the most part, is quite impressive, it’s really the sets that steal the show. Scenic designer Sarah Martin offers audiences a new setting for each act. “Oohs” and “aahs” emanated from the audience when the curtain rose at the start of second act to reveal a patio with a plethora of roses and a hand-painted backdrop resembling Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny.

“The scenery is magnificent,” an audience member whispered to his companion. “The colors are so vivid, aren’t they?” The elaborate parlor in the third act called for applause and forced Cecily and Gwendolen to hold their lines until the audience was ready to listen.

So while you can simply read “Earnest” on your own time, T.I.’s production adds flair and fun to the already impeccable script. And just a quick peek at the set alone is worth the price of admission. nyou