WilliamsTheatre performance gives Wilde’s classic new life

The department of theatre’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest last weekend, directed by Theatre Department Chair Robert Baker-White and starring Alex Foucault ’15, Noah Schechter ’12, Chris Gay ’13, Matthew Conway ’15, Ben Hoyle ’15, Michaela Morton ’12, Margy Love ’12, Sara Harris ’12, Vashti Emigh ’12 and Holly Fisher ’13, hit all the right notes, treating the audience to a visually breathtaking and genuinely hilarious experience.

Wilde’s most famous play is a satire of the triviality of social convention in late-Victorian England. It centers on the characters of John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, played by Foucault and Schechter, respectively, two gentlemen living in turn-of-the-century London. Each has invented an alternate persona for himself, which he uses as a scapegoat in order to escape dull social obligations. Complications ensue when Worthing attempts to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax (Love) and Moncrieff falls in love with Cecily Cardew (Harris), women who know their suitors only by the false name they both adopt – Ernest.

Walking into the Adams Memorial Theatre Saturday afternoon, I was immediately struck by the impressive set design. The richly-colored lighting by New York-based designer Natalie Robin ranged from deep purples to dark crimsons while washed-out sceneries painted on intricately textured backdrops (scenic design by Assistant Professor of Theatre David Evans Morris) evoked a sense of whimsy and enhanced the decadent tone of Wilde’s play. The period-specific outfits, beautifully put together by Costume Director and Lecturer in Art Deborah Brothers, were visually stunning and provided satirical relief, enhancing the self-absorbed and often clueless natures of the characters who wore them. In one of the funniest moments of the play, Foucault’s character stepped out wearing an overly-morose and showy tailcoat and top hat, complete with dark spectacles and a cane, in a hilariously melodramatic attempt to appear somber in light of the “death” of his fictional brother.

The actors never missed a beat, and delivered their lines with perfect comedic timing. In particular, Schechter and Morton stood out in their spot-on turns as Moncrieff and Lady Bracknell, respectively. Schechter stole the show in his portrayal of the flamboyant, witty, cucumber-sandwich-eating Moncrieff, while Morton’s completely oblivious Bracknell induced innumerable fits of laughter in the audience. We were also treated to the singing talents of Fisher, whose musical interludes provided comically over-the-top, creative transitions between each act.

In the first act, we are introduced to John, alias Ernest, and Algernon, who engage in farcical and verbal interplay as Moncrieff exposes John’s secret persona (a mechanism Moncrieff terms “bunburying”), setting the tone for the rest of the play. This is when we are also introduced to Bracknell and her daughter Fairfax. Love’s portrayal of Fairfax conveyed perfectly the absurdity of the play’s premise: Fairfax states that her “ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest,” and Worthing realizes he must have himself rechristened if he wants to earn her hand in marriage.

In Act Two we meet the Rev. Chasuble, Miss Prism and Cardew, Moncrieff’s eventual love interest. Cardew’s character would fit neatly into a present-day rom-com or SNL skit: She is an asinine woman who records inane thoughts every five minutes into her diary and has declared her own engagement to “Ernest” months before even meeting him – she has even invented a temporary call-off of the wedding, for dramatic flair. Again, Harris played the spoiled and mindless character with pitch-perfect seriousness and irony. Possibly my favorite moment in the production came when Cardew met Fairfax for the first time, culminating in the funniest and most ridiculous confrontation in the play.

The third act, complete with an absurd deus ex machina, did not fail to deliver. The production lived up to its deserved praise, spread by word-of-mouth after its premiere Thursday night. The nuance of the cast’s intonations and gestures brought to life a play that may have fallen a little flat when we read it in high school. In all, each actor had amazing stage presence while working fluidly with each other, resulting in a bravura ensemble performance that truly showcased its comedic talents.