The Importance of Being Earnest at Sierra Madre Playhouse

Period pieces can sometimes feel like a drag when not done properly-even a comedy. They can seem overstuffed, academic, and down right boring. Though Oscar Wilde’s comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, has been produced the world over since it’s premier on February 14, 1895 at the Saint James Theatre in London, the play has enjoyed a varied success, depending on the quality of the production.

Currently, on stage at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, director Patricia Wylie continues her signature comedic style with this current production.

Wilde’s play is famous for its scathing denouncement of, what he felt were out dated Victorian mores of the times (the play is set in 1895.) Jason Perlman and Brett Hamilton are perfect antitheses of each other portraying Jack Worthing, the responsible Gentlemen representing all that is considered proper, and Algernon, the aloof dandy perpetual bachelor, respectively.

Both have created alter egos for themselves that allow each to indulge in their own personal enjoyments. Jack has created a brother named Earnest, while Algernon has created a Bunburyist that allows him to get away from engagements he’d rather not attend-such as visits from his aunt Lady Bracknell (Koni McCurdy). Jack is in love with Gwendolen (Jessica Culaciati) while Algernon, after posing as Earnest to meet Jack’s ward, Cecily (Betsy Reisz), goes to Jack’s estate to visit-causing much mix up and series of funny incidents that swiftly resolve themselves by the end of the play.

Ms. Culaciati is wonderful as the pretentious Gwendolen and has a great sense of comedic timing-as demonstrated in the hilarious scene involving Ms. Reisz. Upon learning that each is engaged to an Earnest, of which they presume is the same man, Wilde’s witty language sparkles. Reisz’s Cecily is wild and naïve with a great sense of adventure. McCurdy handles her Lady Bracknell with a gesture of superiority that resonates comically when she’s bantering on and on about society, money, estates, and handbags. Rounding out the cast is Osa Danam as Miss Prism, Richard Large as Reverend Canon Chausuble, D.D., Phil APoian as Merriman, and T.G. Cody as Lane.

In this comedy, the cast as a whole works. There is never a lull in the action and the jokes are delivered at just the right time. Wylie’s direction captures the wit, satire, and language that has made Oscar Wilde celebrated. However, at times, Perlman and McCurdy play up their characters when subtlety would work best.

Algernon is somewhat of a spoiled brat, and Lady Bracknell is strong minded, we can see that, but Perlman and McCurdy at times give an over the top portrayal which reduce the characters to mere caricatures. However, it is still not enough to dissuade from a thoroughly enjoyable production that is both smart and funny.

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