Aurora stages stylish ‘Importance of Being Earnest’

In Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” two young women separately vow that they must marry a man named Earnest.

In an effort to win their hands, two young men pretend they’re named Earnest. Of course their schemes backfire, but all works out well.

Presented by Aurora Theatre Company, Wilde’s satire of late 19th century manners is full of his signature bon mots. However, this production directed by incoming artistic director Josh Costello doesn’t always work as well.

This is especially true in the first scene in London, where Algernon Moncrieff (Patrick Kelly Jones) welcomes a visit by his friend, Jack Worthing (Mohammad Shehata), who’s in love with Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Anna Ishida).

Jack has a manor house in the country, where he’s responsible for his ward, Cecily Cardew (Gianna DiGregorio Rivera). In order to go to London occasionally, he pretends he has a wastrel brother named Earnest there.

The conversation between the two men seems stilted and mannered, as if they were trying too hard to be witty and sophisticated.

Everything brightens, though, with the arrival of Algernon’s aunt, the formidable Lady Bracknell (Sharon Lockwood), and her daughter, Gwendolen. Lockwood’s Lady Bracknell commands the stage with her imperious ways and her impeccable timing.

Jack, whom Gwendolen knows as Earnest, proposes to her, but Lady Bracknell forbids the engagement because Jack is an orphan.

In the meantime, Algernon is intrigued by Jack’s description of Cecily and is determined to meet her. He goes to Jack’s manor house in disguise, but the various deceptions are soon uncovered, leading to the play’s resolution.

In addition to any time with Lockwood, the second act has an amusing scene involving what amounts to a cat fight between the two young women, but they immediately make up when they discover what’s going on.

Another performance that stands out is Trish Mulholland as Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess. Michael Torres does double duty as Lane, Algernon’s discrete manservant, and as the Rev. Canon Chasuble, Miss Prism’s would-be suitor.

The handsome but spare and flexible set is by Nina Ball with lighting by Wen-Ling Liao. The elegant costumes are by Maggie Whitaker. Chris Houston serves as sound designer and composer.

Despite shortcomings by the two young men, the overall production is quite enjoyable thanks to Wilde’s wit and Lockwood’s performance.

Running about two and a half hours with two short intermissions, “The Importance of Being Earnest” will continue through May 12 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

 

About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →