The Importance of Being Earnest at the Aurora Theatre

“The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Aurora Theatre

Carol Benet

The Aurora Theatre in Berkeley is one of the best small theaters in the Bay Area.  It’s current production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” attests to this claim.

The famous play first performed in London in 1895 was one of his most famous works and persists today as a smart comment on the silliness of upper class and their fear of mixing with the commoners.  It is a social satire measuring up to the works of G.B. Shaw.

iIn a complicated plot that unravels at the end, Algernon, performed by a superb interpreter of the haughty, naughty Patrick Kelly Jones, encounters Jack Worthing (Mohammad Shehata), who has an alias name of Earnest.  Algernon also poses as a sickly brother who does not  really exist.  This  play on the double identities lingers throughout the work.  But it is with Gwendolyn (Anna Ishida) that it becomes most important for in love as she is with Jack, she thinks his name is Earnest and will only marry someone by this name.

Her mother, the haughty Lady Brackness, will not approve of the match until she finds out about the background of Jack/Earnest.  Sharon Lockwood , one of the best actresses in the Bay Area, and one who was originally a principal in The San Francisco Mime Troupe, is terrific in this role as she bustles on and off the stage reciting her Wildean witticisms with aplomb.

Lockwood and Jones make the entire show a riotous affair.  It is not an easy one for the small Aurora where the audience sits on three sides and sometimes the quick and witty lines get lost when the characters are facing the opposite side.  An Oscar Wilde play should be first read from the script for the best audience reception because the lines come fast like the volleys from a star tennis player.

Besides Kelly Jones and Lockwood, some of the actors can perform this difficult task of reparté (Ishida, Shehata, Trish and Mulholland as Miss Prism).  Others lack this special ability to be nimble with the dialogues and also be understood. The problem with producing Wilde is that he writes dialogues with his complicated sentences of many clauses that end in a punch line and unless the actor has complete control, it does not come off.  And sometimes the audience is not ready for the next sentences that follow quickly.

Josh Costello’s direction is excellent and so is the scenic design by experienced Nina Ball who, in the art nouveau style of the period, creates a drawing room with a look out onto the elaborate wrought iron gate outside..  Wen-Ling Liao’s lighting makes the stage as brilliant as the Wilde’s lines being recited.  Maggie Whitaker’s costumes are wonderful with a special small touch of having Gwendolyn, who flits around the stage, in a wig with an unruly bunch of hair that does not stay put.

For a good laugh see the current production of  “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Aurora Theatre that runs through  May 12, 2019.    aurorathatre.org 510 843 4822.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →