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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Snobbery and Wit on Display in 'Earnest'

What’s in a name?  Apparently, a lot as evidenced by Oscar Wilde’s classic work The Importance of Being Earnest currently playing in the spanking new venue of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) on Calvert and Redwood Streets.  The theatre, which is now housed in the building the Mercantile Bank had occupied, is a horseshoe shaped, three-tier structure that provides a modern-day setting to the presentation of old-time plays.
Travis Hudson as Jack (L.) and Joe Brack
as Algernon 
Photo: Teresa Castracane

The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened in London in 1895, is a farcical comedy that pokes fun at British high society in the late Victorian era and treats such serious institutions as marriage as trivial.  Though successful at the outset, this play led to Wilde’s decline as his homosexual double life was exposed to the Victorian public and he was eventually sentenced to imprisonment.
The plot involves two upper crust eligible bachelors, Algernon Moncrieff (Joe Brack) and John “Jack” Worthing (Travis Hudson), who both create dual identities (one each for the city and one each for the country) to avoid social obligations and to pursue their intended love interests.

As their plan begins to collide, the wealthy, strong-willed and overtly snobby Lady Bracknell (Lesley Malin) implants fear in the duo as the real story of Earnest Worthing is discovered, along with an explanation of his heritage.

…Earnest is one of the most revered works by Oscar Wilde.  An endless parade of witticisms and biting rejoinders throughout spawned as long a list of memorable quotes as you will find in literature.  A good example is Lady Bracknell’s comment to Jack while interviewing him as a suitor for Gwendolyn (Katherine Elizabeth Kelley): “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” There are many more.
Erin Bone Steele directed the talented CSC ensemble with deftness.  The actors moved about with vigor creating the visual action that accompanied the witty dialogue. 

However, there was no sound designer listed in the program, and that could explain why the volume from some of the actors’ voices was uneven as they bandied about the stage.  One could point to the less than perfect acoustics stemming from the theatre’s near in-the-round configuration and high ceiling; if the actors were mic’d, it would have been easier to hear each and every witticism. 
No such voice projection glitch existed for Joe Brack, an accomplished actor who played Algernon with gusto and flair.  His muscular, rich voice and comedic timing is a huge asset to the production.  In Mr. Brack’s sparring with Mr. Hudson’s Jack, he elicited guffaws from the audience with this: “Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.”   

"No such voice projection glitch existed for Joe Brack, an accomplished actor who played Algernon with gusto and flair."

The two male leads played off each other with strikingly good chemistry as did their respective love interests Ms. Kelly’s Gwendolyn character and Lizzi Albert as Cecily.  Playing the uppity Lady Blacknell, Leslie Malin turned in a delicious performance. 
Rounding out the cast are Lisa Hodsoll as Miss Prism, Cicely’s governess; Lyle Blake Smythers, playing dual roles as a servant and butler; and Gregory Burgess as a priest were admirable and added laughs to the production.   

Costume Designer Krisitna Lamdin did a fine job in fitting the performers in period attire especially Lady Blacknell’s exquisitely lush white gown in the second act.  Lighting Designer Katie McCreary brightened up the simple set.
The Importance of Being Earnest will keep you laughing throughout, and you are likely to enjoy a talented ensemble performing the witty brilliance of Oscar Wilde.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.
The Importance of Being Earnest plays Thursdays through Sundays through March 22, at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore 21202.  For tickets, call the box office at 410-244-8570 or online.

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