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An Earnest Rendition

Skin Horse Theatre Brings Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest to the CAC



In the appreciated absence of a histrionic reinterpretation of Oscar Wilde’s classic drawing-room comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest (directed by Garrett Prejean), Skin Horse Theatre presents this favorite at The Contemporary Arts Center with earnestness, indeed, as it chuckles through a witty evisceration of social institutions and classist expectations.

 

Set in the summer of 1895, late Victorian London, the production aligns its costumes and sets accordingly, but do not fear any embarrassing attempts at high-English accents or hysterical gesticulating ladies. Productions of Victorian drawing-room comedies can easily fail at the indulgence of such pageantry and camp, but, in this case, the gestures employed are considered; the accents are playful but not demented; the set is suggestive of upper-class elegance but not ostentatious. The cast wants you to laugh, but they also want you to hear them. Nothing obstructs the most important pursuit on stage: the actors delivering Wilde’s extravagant lines with ownership and authenticity. The dialogue is sliced smooth from the actors’ lips like so much butter for bread at high tea.

 

The most surprising and delightful artistic choice at recontextualizing this classic is the use of 80’s English rock band, The Smiths, as a soundtrack. Perhaps incongruous at first listen, but lead singer, Morrissey’s infatuation with and allusions to Oscar Wilde is a significant part of his iconography. Both artists are parallel in their pithy critiques of the absurd. Playing The Smiths, in view of their aesthetic connections to Wilde, illustrates his legacy and his still relevant point of view on society. The use of such musical anachronism lends the play a spirited and melancholic energy, unmooring Wilde’s play from a fixed time and place just as the characters on stage unmoor themselves from social expectations.

 

Nat Kusinitz’ John Worthing/Earnest is played with the anxiety of someone keeping a secret. Kusinitz plays between testy and nervous to bold and determined when pushed to his limits by the queen of propriety, Lady Bracknell (Lynae LeBlanc). LeBlanc plays Wilde’s behemoth with the dignity intrinsic to her severe nature but pushes the persona to loony, preaching dame. Her parodying diction, ridiculous rolling consonants and mortified reactions to the general indecorousness of others lend the production a lot of comedy. Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Gwendolen Fairfax (Veronica Hunsinger-Loe) has equal fun delivering her lines with unexpected intonations and humorous mispronunciations. Watching her move back and forth from an aroused passionate lover to a disempowered controlled girl was scene-stealing. Her more ferocious side is delightfully drawn out by a supposed rival, the wispy and elusive Cecily Cardew (Lucy Faust). Cecily’s lover, Algernon Moncrieff, is played by Brian Fabry Dorsam. Stuffing his face with cucumber sandwiches or muffins, he plays the privileged dandy with ease. His physical presence is relaxed and natural, undercutting Moncrieff’s mischievousness.

 

After all the drama of mistaken identity, rescinded engagements and double lives has been resolved, the cast celebrates with a charming group dance number to The Smiths’ “Ask.” The hand slapping and leg kicking is deserved for among all the characters there is at last a relieving new sense of freedom. These Victorian prisoners are giddy because the rigid social sphere, in part a culture of shame, is dismantling. For example, Earnest no longer has to conceal his inferior birth. This “trivial comedy for serious people” is a funny reevaluation of marriage’s sacredness that in its absurdity pushes for emancipation at every level. The freed lovers dance to the lyrics, “Coyness is nice, and coyness can stop you from saying all the things in life you'd like to. So, if there's something you'd like to try, if there's something you'd like to try, ask me - I won’t say "no" -how could I ?” Now that’s a proposal that doesn’t ring of ever after, but it sure sounds like fun.

 

Catch the play for two more weekends at the CAC. For showtimes and ticket information, click here.

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

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