With focused, stylish actors, a director who understands pace and dramatic weight, and an elegant production design you have all that it takes to be reminded of the perfect comedic delight of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” In Taproot’s thoroughly entertaining production, excellently directed by Karen Lund, all of the wit and effortless pleasure of Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece is on display. With some of the most perfectly formed lines in dramatic literature, it’s critical that the vocal delivery be clear, and it certainly is here. Even more important, the actors must convince us that they live in this environment, in this society, and that will allow us to accept that everything about their silly romances, deceptions and alliances is authentic and immediate and fully engaging.
The production begins a bit harshly, with both Algernon and Jack a bit too strong, a bit too emphatic in their delivery, and a bit too forced in their mannerisms. That quickly moderated, however, and with the arrival of Lady Bracknell, played wonderfully by Pam Nolte, this tower of pomposity and propriety seemed to pull the two men down just a notch, just enough. In addition to Nolte, who had every sniffle of authority perfectly in place, who trumpeted every condescending proclamation as if it was an oracle from an ancient diety, who gave the slightest riffling of a handkerchief grandeur, we know exactly how important these trivial people are, how seriously their nonsense is to be taken. As Gwendolyn says, “In matters of great importance style, not sincerity, seems to be of the utmost importance.”
In fact, as solid as the performances of Algernon and Jack were, the women really made this production work. As the ever so sweet Cecily, Bethany Hudson was just lovely. In fact, she was literally just lovely, with not the slightest hint of any depth beneath her pretty surface. This is a child as substantial and airy as a piece of fine lace. As the older Gwendolyn, Charity Parenzini had a bit more gravity about her, decidedly more woman than girl, but only slightly more consequential than Cecily. That she was more experienced in the ways of the world is never to be confused with being more substantive. The famous tea scene in Act II was beautifully played between these two and really developed the relationship between them and between them and their respective (if not respectable) beaus. I also really enjoyed Kim Morris as the good servant, Miss Prism, whose carelessness with a bag at a train station leads to such genealogical discomfort.
I liked Aaron Lamb as Algy and thought he gave the character a sense of self-indulgence exemplified by his appetite for muffins and personified in his desire to become “Earnest” with the sprinkling of a bit of holy water. Jack, played by Kevin Brady, had more of a hard-edged personality, more frustrated by the world’s unwillingness to bend to his needs, and thus clearly a better match for Gwendolyn. I very much enjoyed Bill Johns as the Reverend Chasuble, an utterly pointless man of the cloth who cannot quite accomplish even a simple, if delayed, baptism. Finally, Nolan Palmer played a butler more furniture than flesh, droll and utterly accessory.
The physical production by Mark Lund was beautiful, with a handsome drawing room interior and a well-designed garden for Act Two. Even more impressive were the gorgeous costumes by Sarah Burch Gordon. This was so critical to creating the extravagance and style of this period, and of this elegant comedy of manners. Jody Brigg’s warm and tangible lighting kept the setting very human and the mood warm and amusing.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a classic not only because it captures perfectly drawn types from the period, as well as the contradictory values of the society, but also because it also so totally captures the personality and character of Wilde himself. It is also a perfectly written play structurally, and if it is done correctly, and with the necessary pace, precision and elan, it will work every time. That is not as easy as it sounds. Taproot just managed to get it all right.
Pictured above: Charity Parenzini as Gwendolen, Kevin Brady as John Worthing and Pam Nolte as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by Matthew Lawrence.