A Quintessential Production in Mt. Airy

by Walter Bender

Quintessence Theatre Group in Mt. Airy opened its latest production, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde. The play is the classic piece satirizing Victorian society and principles, and this new production does a wonderful job of bringing Wilde’s characters to life.

Jake Blouch as Jack Worthing and Josh Carpenter as Algernon Moncrieff in Quintessence Theatre Group's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (photo by Elan Gepner).

Director Alexander Burns chose to bring this production into modern times, changing the time to 1962 rather than Victorian England. I was at first dreading the change (rarely has bringing a show into the present done it justice), yet I must admit that I loved the nuances changing the time added to the production. The show opens in the flat of Algernon Moncrieff (Josh Carpenter), a clean modern apartment which instantly tells you much about the character. Algernon is about to entertain guests (his aunt and cousin) and is surprised by the visit of his friend Jack Worthing (Jake Blouch.) Jack tells Algernon of his “double life”, going by the name of Jack in the country and pretending to have a brother Earnest who he visits in the city. He then goes by the name of Earnest in the city, and has met Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen Fairfax (Janel Miley) and fallen in love with her, intending to propose when she comes to visit Algernon. He does propose, she accepts, yet it seems she is in love with Earnest mainly because of his name. He resolves to become Earnest full time. In the meantime, Algernon finds out the location of Jack’s country estate and visits, pretending to be the wastrel brother Earnest. He meets Jack’s ward Cecily (Emily Rast), falls in love and proposes to her. Of course she also accepts, and also seems more interested in the name of Earnest. Algernon also decides to change his name to Earnest Worthing. Throw in an overbearing aunt, a protective governess, an amorous minister and various servants, and let the laughter commence!

The performances in this production are all first-rate. Josh Carpenter and Jake Blouch shine as Algernon and Jack. Their interplay is wonderful, the poetry of the language dancing between them flawlessly. Janel Miley and Emily Rast as Gwendoline and Cecily are sweet, charming, and adorably conflicting. Janis Dardaris as Lady Bracknell was marvelous, the epitome of British upper class society. Her line delivery was decadently upper-crust. Rounding out the cast were Marie Maginity (Miss Prism), Paul Hebron (Lane and Reverend Chasuble), and Sean Close (Merriman). All were spot on with interpretation, adding much to each of their characters with the most subtle of physical reactions.

Josh Carpenter as Algernon Moncrieff and Janis Dardaris as Lady Bracknell in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, a Quintessence Theatre Group production running in Mt. Airy through May 22. (photo by Elan Gepner).

The tempo of the production was brisk, yet perfect. The actors appeared to be truly enjoying themselves in this production, and their joy was shared by the audience. The interplay among the characters was delightful, overplayed and dramatic where necessary, light and comedic other times.

Quintessence Theatre Group is performing at the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy, and they seem to be working on doing some renovations to this historic facility. They’ve done a fine job of building a working area with intimate seating for the audience, and provide a wonderfully entertaining experience for the patrons. Head out of the city (or come to the city) and see this sparkling production.

by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Alexander Burns
through May 22, 2011
Quintessence Theatre Group
The Sedgwick Theater
7117 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia PA

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