Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened Friday night at the Oster Regent Theatre under the direction of Greg Holt, has been described as “A trivial comedy for serious people.”
That being said, allow this serious person to say that what is occurring on the Oster Regent’s stage is not a comedy, but a tragedy.
The plot is a bit complex; Algernon Moncrieff (John Greer) is waiting for his aunt Agatha Bracknell (Linda Merritt) and her daughter Gwendolyn Fairfax (Jacquelyn Lies) when his friend Jack Worthing (Ned Kelly), whom he knows as Earnest, arrives. Jack intends to marry Gwendolyn, who also knows him as Earnest. However, when in the countryside, he goes by his real name and claims that Earnest is his brother. Algernon then decides to masquerade as Earnest when visiting his friend’s garden house, where he woos Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (Erin Lund).
What may sound like an exciting night of theater is actually a dull, boring production, save for two excellent performances.
Several of the actors speak too quickly, making their lines incomprehensible. This is a major problem for Kelly since him and Greer are onstage and speaking the most. Only once, in Act Two–which is really Act Three, was I able to understand an entire line of his.
Greer has a better control over this and even manages to speak clearly with food in his mouth. But he too speeds up, making me glad I had read the play beforehand.
The two young women give even more disappointing performances. Lies is campy most of the time and cold and emotionless the rest. Lund, who gave a magnificent performance earlier this season in Enchanted April, is unmemorable and over-the-top as Cecily. During a scene between the two women, Merriman (Greg Kerr) brings in a tray of tea and manages to make the scene more interesting just by his presence.
Joy Thorson gives the most unimpressive performance of the show as Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess. Thorson is incapable of consistently using an accent, flip-flopping from British and American. On top of that, her performance is so extreme that upon seeing Dr. Chasuble (Larry Kaplan) she might as well exclaim “I have a romantic interest in you!”
The show’s magnificent performances come from the two actors that appear the least often. Kaplan is delightful and most of the time restrained. The highlight of the show is a horrified yelp he emits at the news that the faux Earnest, that has allegedly died, wishes to be buried in Paris, the most sinful of places imaginable.
Merritt gives an excellent powerhouse performance as Lady Bracknell. The way she carries herself and expresses herself both physically and vocally tells us that she, Lady Bracknell, is better than everyone else. During a scene in which she questions Jack, she plays the character in such a way that one has to wonder what she is really thinking. Shortly after that, she seems to be attempting to cut bring Jack to his knees with her words. Sadly, Kelly stands there still and emotionless, waiting to deliver his lines.
But the lack of appearances the characters portrayed by Merritt and Kaplan is the real source of the tragedy of this show. If they appeared more, I think it might have saved this floundering show.
(Importance of Being Earnest continues Friday Feb. 20 and runs through the 22 at the Oster Regent Theatre in Cedar Falls. Performances on the 20 and 21 are at 7:30, the 22 at 2:00. The show has a running length of two hours and three minutes long with a 15 minute intermission. Tickets are $20 for adults, $12 for students and are available by calling the box office at 319-277-5283.)