The Importance of Being Earnest romps at the Aurora

                              EXTENDED TO MAY 19, 2019

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: Comedy by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Josh Costello. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. 1/2 block from Downtown Berkeley BART). (510) 843-4822 or at www.auroratheatre.org.

The Importance of Being Earnest romps at the Aurora. Rating: ★★★★☆

Oscar Wilde’s famous 1895 play The Importance of Being Earnest always seems to be on the boards somewhere in the world (Wikipedia reference) and now you can enjoy a new incarnation at the Aurora Theatre. If you have seen the play before you probably will arrive with specific memories of past stagings and wonder how they could mount a play that requires two indoor and two outdoor sets on their intimate three-sided thrust stage.

They start with a cast that is superb to competent allowing Wilde’s wild, wicked, wonderful dialog to take center stage and keep the action at a fast space including asides and interaction with the audience. The improbable plot is packed with bon mots that role off the tongue of the characters with precise enunciation with only a tinge of English accents.

The play is of course outdated and probably unacceptable to #METO movement if you consider the dialog to be only derogatory rather than satirically uproarious.  Then there’s the plot that is deliciously convoluted and an almost perfect vehicle for the zingers that come in bursts but last throughout the evening. For those who have never seen the play a brief summary of the plot is offered here.

John Worthing (Mohammad Shehata) leads a double life. [“When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.”] In the country, he is Jack, guardian to young Cecily Cardew (Gianna Digregorio Rivera). [“I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.”]

In town, he is Ernest, in love with Gwendolen Fairfax  (Anna Ishida) [“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”]  whose mother is the formidable Lady Bracknell (Sharon Lockwood).[“ To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”] Algernon Moncrieff (Patrick Kelly Jones), nephew to Lady Bracknell and a friend of Ernest, deviously learns Ernest/Jack’s “devious secret” and heads of to the country to meet Cecily saying he is Ernest. [“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either and modern literature a complete impossibility!”] Jack/Ernest arrives, Lady Bracknell arrives and Gwendolyn arrives in the country.   Miss Primm (Trish Mulholland) a former nanny, tutor to Cecily, a closeted novelist enters in the mix (don’t ask). [“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”].  Reverend Chasuble (Michael Torres) dovetails into plot. With all these possible complications Wilde saves the day with a plausible conclusion. “That we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

Patrick Kelley Jones is absolutely perfect as Algernon never overplaying his role with completely natural delivery that almost overshadows the blustery pomposity of Sharon Lockwood’s Lady Bracknell. Algernon’s comment on Lady Bracknell’s entrance is prophetic: “Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.” Lady Bracknell does not disappoint giving a dominating Wagnerian performance. Mohammad Shehata’s performance as Jack/Ernest is competent with a tendency to overact by forcefully emphasizing the gist of his zingers making sure the audience gets to laugh. Michael Torres gives great characterization as the Lane the rigid butler and transforms himself as the loveable country Reverend Chasuble for the last act denouement.  Anna Ishida radiates the shallow indifference of Gwendolyn and banters word for word with Gianna Digregorio Rivera’s perfect diction but a shrill delivery as Cecily .

Nina Ball’s beautiful art nouveau set is an added touch of elegance to an elegant play by An elegant playwright whose works have withstood the test of time and can be enjoyed by present and future generations. It is a solid should see hit in three acts with brief intermission music written by Chris Houston. Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes.

CAST: Michael Torres as Lane, Manservant To Algernon; Patrick Kelly Jones as as Algernon Moncrieff, Nephew To Lady Bracknell; Mohammad Shehata as Jack Worthing, Guardian To Cecily; Sharon Lockwood as Lady Bracknell, Mother To Gwendolen; Anna Ishida asAs Gwendolen Fairfax, Daughter To Lady Bracknell; Trish Mulholland as Miss Prism, Governess To Cecily; Gianna Digregorio Rivera as Cecily Cardew, Ward To Jack; Michael Torres as The Reverend Canon Chasuble;  Louel Señores as Merriman,Jacks Butler.

CREATIVE TEAM: Scenic Designer,  Nina Ball; Costume Designer, Maggie Whitaker; Lighting Designer, Wen-Ling Liao; Sound Designer/Composer, Chris Houston; Props Master, Elisabeth Reeves; Dialect Coach, Nancy Carlin; Stage Manager, Cirby Hatano.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.