The Importance of Being Earnest
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Through August 28
The distinguishing theatrical device in Archway Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest is that all the performers appear in their undergarments — or rather, they appear costumed (by Sara Davenport) in undergarments suitable to the Victorian era roles they are assuming. The aim of co-directors Michael Shane Eastman and Will Kleist is to highlight the deliciously ludicrous elements in Wilde’s plot, underscoring the outsized pretentions of his spoiled, privileged and ethically insensate characters.
Needless to say, it takes more than a fun concept and an eye-catching device to create a successful, or even workable, production. It also takes skill and, with British farce, exacting precision as well. Unfortunately, with the exception of a snappily assured Erika Godwin as the blue-blooded Gwendolen Fairfax, this ensemble is lacking in both.
To recap for whomever may have forgotten their high school/college lit class: The plot concerns the efforts of Jack Worthing (Patrick Albanesius) to win the hand of Gwendolen over the objections of her domineering mother, Lady Bracknell (Melissa Virgo). The old battle axe not only makes no bones about her pursuit of wealth in a son-in-law, she revels in superficial values as the highest good. A second romance involves Jack’s buddy Algernon (Will Holbrook), who’s been smitten with Jack’s 18 year-old ward, Cecily (Haigan Day), and vice-versa. This is to Jack’s consternation, since although “Algy” is fun to pal around with, he’s something of a wastrel, and too much a player for Jack’s comfort. Both he and Algernon are stymied when it emerges that both their lady loves are enamored of the name “Earnest,” and profess they will marry none other.
While the mechanics of the plot are a hoot, it’s the wit and commentary on human behavior that make this farce an enduring classic. One wants to savor them, but it’s hard when so many of the performances are missing substance and authenticity. It’s telling that Albanesius reveals his comic best in scenes with Godwin’s Gwendolen (who shows early signs of becoming her mother). As Cecily, the very attractive Day has mustered all the mannerisms essential for portraying this flighty character, but you can see the “work.” In both cases, more demanding direction might have elevated these performances toward a more professional standard.
Archway Theatre, 10509 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun, 2 p.m.; through August 28. (818) 980-PLAY (7529) or www.archwayla.com. Running time: two hours and ten minutes with an intermission.