Review: ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ at Everyman Theatre

The Importance Of Being Earnest, often touted as a perfect comedy, plays at Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore through the end of the month. Oscar Wilde’s final play, as performed by Everyman’s resident company and friends, moves beyond “perennial favorite” into “weirdly relevant but refreshingly goofy.”

The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by ClintonBPhotography
The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by ClintonBPhotography

Everyman has developed a reputation for quality elements in every production, and in this case, production values are extraordinarily spectacular. Ostentatious is what it is, a deliberate thematic statement which carries consistently for the duration of the show. Author Oscar Wilde, well-known and controversial in his time, would approve of the visual reflection of his flippant social satire.

Director Joseph Ritsch delivers lively, clever blocking and an acid-dream, super-saturated aesthetic for the production, which Costume Designer David Burdick embraces enthusiastically in eye-watering hues that ought but fail to be horrifyingly garish. The hats alone deserve a bow or two, and, in some cases, have them, and feathers as well. Set Designer Daniel Ettinger produces his usual well-executed scenery, in this case, large-scale imposing posh shapes in juicy Miami Vice hues. Act III’s country house set is Malibu Barbie’s dream mansion. Sound Designer Roc Lee creates an auditory experience that is quite convincing. Fight choreography by Lewis Shaw is well executed, and a fun surprise.

Brilliant technical trappings notwithstanding, it is the actors who glow brighter than even the luminous palette of the production. Everyman newcomer Jaysen Wright as Jack Worthing is earnest and sincere, an excellent straight man for the ridiculous posturings of Algernon Moncrieff, played by resident company member Danny Gavigan, who delivers a reliably comedic performance with crisp and pointed delivery. Fellow resident company member Paige Hernandez, a Baltimore School for the Arts graduate, is an appropriately silly Cecily Cardew and makes a perfect foil for Katie Klieger as the elegantly overblown Gwendolen Fairfax. It is, however, the expressive facial stylings of Bruce Randolph Nelson in the person of Lady Bracknell which threaten to run away with the show altogether. He’s clearly having more fun than ought to be legal for a grown man in a public venue, and so is the audience. Though Earnest is regarded as a verbally witty script as is, the physical comedy inserted by Director Ritsch creates additional levels of hilarity within the show.

Remaining inside the theatre during intermission allows guests the opportunity to witness a piece of the “show behind the show” as stage crew smoothly switches the set around in a quiet, choreographed, silent performance. Those who were busy with their phones missed it entirely, and watching their astonishment at the transformation was in itself amusing. The lobby offers a selection of nibbles and performance-themed cocktails, and the coffee is not at all bad. Beverages, but not food, are permitted into the theatre. Restrooms, as well as a coat rack, are down the stairs, also accessible by elevator.

Katie Kleiger and Jaysen Wright. Photo by ClintonBPhotography
Katie Kleiger and Jaysen Wright. Photo by ClintonBPhotography

Be advised that The Importance Of Being Earnest is a farce and I, as my regular readers know, love farce. If you’re not a fan of farce or social satire, first of all, what’s wrong with you? And secondly, this show could change your mind.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including two intermissions- 15 minutes between Acts I and II, 10 minutes between Acts II and III.

The Importance Of Being Earnest plays through December 30, 2018, at Everyman Theatre at 315 West Fayette Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.

You may also be interested in GO OSCAR WILDE! Pride Night during the run of The Importance Of Being Earnest. Celebrate diversity with discounted tickets and a pre-show happy hour on December 14th, beginning at 6 pm. Also available are tickets to Tea Time In Earnest, a light repast at Emma’s Tea House with three of the show’s characters—just like a Disney Princess tea party, only for grownups—or, really, not at all like that. Well, maybe. On December 27th, as with all fourth Thursday performances at Everyman, guests are invited to remain post-performance for a moderated discussion of the show with the cast.

Note: Parking is convenient in the lot across the street from Everyman; however, it only accepts credit cards, never cash.