KPBS AIRDATE: July 5, 2002
MUSIC: “Born to Be Wild”
This is as Wilde as it gets — Oscar Wilde, that is. “The Importance of Being Earnest” has been hailed as a comic masterpiece, a brilliant slice of satire, mocking the wealthy and the clergy, both of whom richly deserve the derision, in 1895 and today. Unfortunately, its author was also skewered. The colorful, eccentric Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality and served two years of hard labor, after which he was physically, spiritually and financially ruined. He died in despair in 1900, but his brilliance shines on.
“Earnest’s” story is too silly for words, with its scheming men and flighty, forgetful or tyrannical women. But its flawless wit and witticisms, not to mention its characters, cat-fights and catting around, render it timeless. In lampooning Victorian values, with all the hypocrisy, shallow sentimentality and social facades, Wilde’s intelligent trifle carries the portentous message that no life can be lived in earnest, without due regard for nonsense. The piece is subtitled, “A trivial play for serious people,” and everyone in it is living under some pretense of earnestness, though nobody’s really fooling anyone else. And there’s no fooling about the seriously hilarious North Coast Repertory Theatre production.
Co-directors Rosina Reynolds and Sean Murray have brought their copious combined talents to the task with outstanding effect. The piece has the perfect tone — clever without being campy, funny without being ridiculous. The cast is impeccable. Jeffrey Jones does his best work as the cynically bemused, amoral and adorable Algernon, who idly spews some of Wilde’s best lines. As his aunt, the imperious Lady Bracknell, Annie Hinton is a hoot, with the chins of Robert Morley and the speech style of Margaret Thatcher. James Saba is hysterically prissy as Jack Worthing, a man who, having lost two parents, is accused of being careless. As Gwendolen, the object of his ardor, who wouldn’t dream of marrying anyone who wasn’t named Ernest, Jessa Watson is both beautiful and uproarious, the perfect, fluttery foil for her arch-rival and best friend, Cecily, played by lovely Julie Jacobs with charming, adolescent zeal. Don Loper makes two different servants unique and amusing, and Jim Chovick’s irreverent reverend is a great mate for Sandra Ellis-Troy’s priggish Miss Prism.
Portraits of Mr. Wilde, both youthful and dissipated, flank the suggestive, apple-green set, an ideal backdrop to Shulamit Nelson’s gorgeous period costumes. All told, this ever-droll “Earnest” is unconditionally irresistible.
MUSIC OUT: “Wild Thing”
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.