One of the best things about Community Theater is the opportunity it provides for theater training and experimentation.
With THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, Footlighters Theater in Berwyn has attempted to update this over one hundred year old play with something of a more contemporary interpretation. While not altering the story or the dialog the director has placed the play within a black and white setting. It is minimalist in design and forces your attention to the actors, their costumes and the wonderful characters created by Oscar Wilde.
With THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, playwright Wilde has attacked almost every convention of English life and institutions during the late Victorian period. His lines are comprised of high wit and are somewhat reminiscent of the English Restoration Comedies of the 18th century.
Prior to the beginning of the opening night performance Producer Tony Filipone asked the audience, by show of hands, how many of us were familiar with the play. Almost every hand rose in unison. This becomes one of the challenges when trying something new with a play so well known and with audience members having their favorite production or character interpretation in mind.
Another challenge is that there have also been a number of very successful and well-known films of the play. Perhaps the most famous is the 1952 production directed by Anthony Asquith with Michael Redgrave as Jack, Richard Watts as Algernon and Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell. A more recent film from 2002 finds Colin Furth as Jack, Rupert Everett as Algernon and Dame Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell.
The Footlighters production succeeds in some ways and misses the mark in others.
As John Worthing, J.P. Kevin McCormack is at times robotic and stiff in his delivery of lines and is not aided by a makeup design which made him look somewhat ghoulish against the black backdrop and his costumes. The most period correct costume for both of the men seemed to be his funereal outfit of Act II.
David Richman as Algernon Montcrieff, tossed off his lines at such as fast clip, as to be almost unintelligible. His hair, costumes and hats were totally wrong and ill-fitting. Not the sort of dress for a Dapper Dandy of Victorian England, who would have had nothing out of place.
Of the ladies, the most successful performance was that of Tracy Hawkins as Lady Bracknell. She brought a level of gravitas and wit to her performance. I did wonder why the set design didn’t afford her “thrones” to sit upon. Seeing her sit on a sofa seemed somehow wrong.
Veronica Smith gives a fine performance as her daughter the Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax. As does Lisa Eve D’Annunzio as Cecily Cardew, although she should watch the amount of facial mugging she does to the audience.
Roseann McGrath Brooks is amusing as Miss Prism, governess to Cecily. And Christopher Moran is likeable as Reverend Canon Chasuble, D.D.
The characters of the servants Jim Hardy as Lane (in town) and Anne Lannack as Merriman (in the country) help to set time and place.
Whether you know the play, or this is your first time seeing it, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, is one of the fundamental plays you need to see on stage and not just read.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
By Oscar Wilde
9/07/2012 – 9/22/2012
Directed by Daniel A. Libby
The Footlighters Theater
58 Main Avenue