Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest may be the very funniest play ever. It's certainly among the sturdiest comedies of all time, as much for its on-target skewering of a variety of archetypal personalities as for as its ingeniously silly plot and its seemingly bottomless supply of witticisms. The current run at the Advent Theatre at the , helmed by Ken Campbell, gives the play the spartan treatment, utilizing a very minimal set design and not taking too many liberties with the original text. Neither the best nor worst production of Earnest, it nevertheless provides a fine couple hours' of entertainment—because with this script it's probably impossible to do otherwise.
Earnest tells the story of two friends living the high life in fashionable late Victorian England. Jack Worthing (John Collins) lives on a country estate with his ward, Cecily Cardew (Chelsey Moore); he pretends to have a naughty younger brother named Ernest in London, which makes it easy for him to slip away for visits to the city (in the guise of this fictitious fellow "Ernest") whenever he wants to. As Ernest, he has befriended Algernon Moncrieff (Christian Prentice), who, it turns out, has devised a similar scheme of his own: he has a fake friend named "Bunbury" who lives in the country, and Algy goes to visit his imaginary pal, who is a terrible invalid, whenever he wants to get out of town. Jack is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Lauren Lewis), Algy's cousin, but their marriage plans face a formidable obstacle in the form of Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell (Barbara Hartman Campbell): when Jack reveals that he was in fact a foundling (left in a handbag in a cloak room at Victoria Station), the society-conscious Lady Bracknell refuses permission for the match. Complications ensue, and there's also a slight subplot involving Cecily's governess, Miss Prism (Beth Owen), and the local minister, Dr. Chasuble (James Loren). All works out well in the end, of course.
The story is delightful, and the dialogue priceless. Wilde captures here the shallow foolishness of giddy lovers, snobs, social climbers; the overprivileged, the overeducated, and the overindulgent.
Lauren Lewis’ role as Gwendolyn Fairfax is one of the stand-out performances of the night. Her soft features and ramrod-straight poise fit right into the 19th century motif, as do her subtle fits of emotion, restrained by the strict etiquette of the time. Lewis has an undeniable on-stage presence that makes us love Gwendolyn, as Jack does, despite her outwardly shallow character.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs from April 20-May 13, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 1:30pm. Ticket prices: General Admission $20, Seniors & Students $15, and Groups of 8 or more $10 each.