Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," now playing at Gig Harbor's Paradise Theater, is a hilarious production full of wit, cleverness and social commentary. Director Mike Wilkinson and the production's colorful cast of characters hold no punches with regard to Wilde's satirical views of proper Victorian society.
The play centers on the hi-jinks of a country bachelor named Jack (Nathaniel Jones) and his friend Algernon (Luke Sayler). Jack, who goes by the name of Ernest when he pops into the city, falls in love with and proposes to a high society lady named Gwedolen (Shannon Burch) Fairfax. Meanwhile Algernon, posing as Jack's brother Ernest, falls in love with his friend's ward, a lovely 18-year-old beauty named Cecily (Julia Sinnott).
The production includes a vivacious list of additional characters including a snooty old British dame named Lady Bracknell (Donna Long), the no-nonsense governess Miss Prism (Kristen Hulscher), a charmingly optimistic Rev. Chasuble (Jon Elston) and two drab but hilariously sarcastic butlers, Lane (Peter Knickerbocker) and Merrimen (Duane Petersen).
Jones and Sayler have a natural onstage chemistry that when combined transforms them into a classic comedic duo. Sayler was terrific as Algernon. His cheeky quips about marriage and relationships were smart and garnered chuckles from the tiny theater's modest audience. Jones gave a stellar performance as Jack. His body and facial expressions, coupled with occasional emotional outbursts, kept the audience rooting for this underdog of a character.
Although their faux-British accents may not have seemed genuine, the acting was solid and added depth and authenticity to each character. A common theme, which occasionally occurs within comedies, is overacting. These actors handled their performances with confidence and ease.
There were a few obvious hiccups with regard to remembering lines, however, any mistakes were quickly corrected and did not take away from an otherwise flawless performance.
The women in the play match their male leads, while packing a punch in their roles, as well. Burch offers a convincing and hilarious high society lady in Gwedolen. Long had a successfully memorable performance as British aristocrat Lady Bracknell.
The set is simple but nicely done, with authentic looking furniture and accents from the 1800s. Simple, soft lighting added to the overall mood of the production. The costumes also are nice, especially the females' wardrobe, complete with elaborate period-style dresses, hats and accessories.
For those who like a good satirical comedy with strong leads and a cast of memorable backup characters, this production should not be missed.
Paradise Theater's "The Importance of Being Earnest" takes place through May 9, with showings on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The theater is located at 9911 Burnham Dr. N.W. in Gig Harbor.
Tickets cost $20-22 for adults, $17-19 for senior-military $17-19 and $10-12 for students. Group rates and season tickets are available. Tickets can be purchased by calling (253) 851-PLAY or by visiting www.paradisetheater.org.