Powerfully nuanced acting in Lakewood Playhouse’s staging of “The Importance of Being Earnest” brings to 118-year-old play to the current day without losing its heritage.
Oscar Wilde’s farcical comedy, after all, had created the formula of compounding white lies into mistaken identities and fast-talking that pretty much every modern sitcom uses to this day. On one level, the play is a comedy, while on another, it is a biting commentary about social norms told through the adventures of two well-traveled men about town who use fictional “cover stories” to live separate lives in the country than they do in the city. Their separate ruses come to light when they inadvertently merge lies and struggle to keep them straight when they fall in love along the way.
The trick to staging a British “period piece” of this caliber is that while the script is a proven hit, weak acting in a show that is so word heavy could bring ruin. The play lacks fight scenes, deep drama and over-the-top comical lines machine gunned from the stage. It just rolls along with giggles here and there brought by subtle delivery and strategic eye rolls and nods. Unskilled actors and untrained directors could miss the moments. Such is not the case with Lakewood’s show. Director Marilyn Bennett’s doctoral work in Theatre History and Criticism was well used in staging this season-ending show. Each scene seems to have been hammered and folded and hammered again to forge a sharp sword of theatrical awesomeness. The multi-layered lines were allowed to soak and age to perfection.
At the center of the awesomeness are John Worthing (played by Bryan K. Bender) and Algernon Moncrieff (Andrew Kittrell), who find themselves in love with Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax (Deya Ozburn) and Cecily Cardew (Cassie Jo Fastabend), respectively. The trouble is, their loves know them both as Ernest, their cover story names. Their portrayals are three dimensionally realistic but over the top in their hilarity.
Fastabend is just adorable as the youthful but cutting ward in love, and Ozburn owns the stage every time she does a period piece. This show continues that trend. Wilde must have had a premonition five generations ago that Ozburn would handle his words like she were wearing a pitcher’s mitt – each line was worked and oiled and tooled for a full delivery. Ozburn delivered.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $24 with student and military discounts. The theatre is located within the Lakewood Towne Center, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Contact (253) 588-0042 or lakewoodplayhouse.org.