Saturday, July 12, 2008 The Kingston Whig-Standard

The Importance of Being Earnest

Lying prigs, witty twits make for a lovely night

By Greg Burliuk

If, in real life, you met any of the characters in Oscar Wilde?s The Importance of Being Earnest, you?d find the men to be lying prigs and the women witty twits. Such is the magic of theatre, however, that a great script, fine actors and good direction can allow you to suspend reality and have a lovely night at the theatre.

The jury is already in as far as the script goes. Since first being produced in 1895, the play has been a hit and, every few years or so in Kingston, someone revives it. Why? We are a town of anglophiles (at least the people running the local theatres are) and Earnest set the standard for light, frothy British musicals where upper-crust cads coolly make witty put-downs of each other and various societal practices in between getting involved in nonsensical plots.

Sometimes, however, the froth needs to be stirred a little ? why it took Wilde almost three hours and three acts to get through the nonsense is a mystery to me, and, apparently, he originally wrote it in four acts and it was cut down to three.

Bottle Tree Productions is the latest to tackle Earnest with a youthful cast that isn?t half bad (the female half, that is)

To make Earnest work, the dialogue has to be crisp and understandable to the audience; and, more importantly, the actors have to at least appear to believe in what they?re doing. The two chief male actors have a more difficult task than their female counterparts in this respect. That?s because they both are given a silly way of getting out of situations ? they go look after imaginary friends or brothers, Jack to his n?er-do-well brother in London and Algernon to a sick friend in the Bunbury. Both also have the misfortune of falling in love with women who want to marry someone named Earnest.

Both are supposed to men of the world ? Algy a somewhat impoverished fellow of title and Jack, abandoned at birth, is lucky enough to have been saved by a wealthy man.

And this is where the actors playing those roles run into problems.

As Jack, the slightly older of the two, Peter Jensen falls back sometimes on a phoney suave accent reminiscent of Thurston Howell III from Gilligan?s Island. Plus, he has to remember the period he's in. It?s not touchy-feely, so he should keep his hands off everyone, especially in one scene where he grabs the parson.

Mitchell Nasheim usually plays more physically comedic roles than this one and, although he utters his lines flawlessly, he?s a bit young for the part and not entirely convincing. Looking at one?s fingernails is also not the epitome of suave preening either.

The women do have an easier time of it and absolutely sparkle. As Cecily, the country girl who wins Algy?s heart, Hannah Smith is the star of the show and utterly believable as the 18-year-old with the rich fantasy life and lovely smile. As Gwendolyn, Jack?s belle, Carin Ann Crabtree (although saddled with a hat that always looks on the verge of falling off) is equally impressive, especially when showing polite anger.

In smaller parts, Colin Robbins is fantastic as the pompous parson and Elizabeth Taylor commendable as the absent-minded tutor.

The part of Lady Bracknell has been played by many illustrious actresses over the years and is a crucial one, since she is Gwendolyn?s disapproving mother and holds the key to the ultimate plot resolution. Unfortunately, in that role, Sally Jensen had trouble remembering her lines, which meant that every time she was on stage, momentum was lost while she groped for them. Director Charles Robertson might have been better advised to cast either Taylor, or (my choice) Robbins in the part.

Still, if you like British comedy, you?ll enjoy this show. And, surprisingly, even though the Wellington has no air conditioning, it?s quite cool on a summer's eve.

Hannah Smith (right), pictured with Mitchell Nasheim, is the star of the production. Michael Lee/The Whig-Standard

Hannah Smith (right), pictured with Mitchell Nasheim, is the star of the production. Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard

Sally Jensen plays Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Michael Lee/The Whig-Standard

Sally Jensen plays Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde?s The Importance of Being Earnest

Jack - Peter Jensen
Algernon - Mitchell Nasheim
Cecily - Hannah Smith
Gwendolyn - Carin Ann Crabtree

T H E   I M P O R TA N C E
O F  B E I N G   E A R N E S T
A play written by Oscar Wilde.
Director - Charles Robertson
Stage Manager - Mark Gauthier
Set Design - Kyle White
A Bottle Tree Productions production now playing until July 26 at the Wellington Street Theatre, 126 Wellington St., with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. plus a matinee Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, seniors $18 and students $15. For tickets or more information, call the Grand Theatre box office at 613-530-2050.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars



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