I’ve never met Oscar Wilde. Heard of him, sure. Dorian Grey, the indecency trial, that’s hard to miss. But I’ve never read any of his work or seen one of his plays. Whether good or bad, I went into the Neptune Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest with fresh eyes, no expectations. Well, maybe one. This is Neptune after all. We know they will knock it out of the park. It’s just becoming a question of how far.
That famous Wilde wit is rapier sharp here, and he stabs society with it and makes them like it. Nothing is off limits, from family to non-educated daily newspaper critics(one wonders if Wilde was thinking of any in particular here). He pokes holes in the idea of someone being important merely because they have a name and nice clothes but otherwise destitute. Hell, he even made cucumber sandwiches sound good.
If you don’t know the story, it introduces us to Algernon Moncrieff and Ernest Worthing. But Ernest is really Jack. Ernest is a persona, the profligate brother Jack goes to see in London whenever he needs to get away and have some fun. Which is something Algernon understands well, being a Bunburyist himself. What is a Bunburyist one may ask? Why Bunbury is the invalid (and fictional) friend Algernon visits whenever he needs to leave the city and his aunts interminable dinner parties. Nothing as horrible as a married couple flirting with each other, you know.
Jack is love with Gwendolen, who loves Ernest. And Algernon, pretending to be Ernest, meets and falls in love with Cecily. (Incidentally, this is my only problem with the play. It seemed as if Algernon only wanted to meet and bed Cecily to piss off Jack. But he meets her and suddenly she’s the love of his life. Minor quibble, to be sure, when everything else is rock solid.) Of course, everyone ends up at the same country house and the fall out is…well, you should really see for yourself. It is quite wonderfully written and Oscar Wilde nailed women here, and everything else, like nobody else.
Ah, but that’s the play, which is the same story everywhere. How did Neptune do? Absolutely fantastic. The set and costumes are the first thing to catch ones attention. And Sean Mulcahy did an amazing job. While in some ways the set was simple, nothing moving, only (only he says) three individual set pieces, it is also extravagant Victorian houses we are looking at here. And they were truly beautiful. And bonus points for showing us the statue through the window of the country house that we see in the garden. A little thing that is greatly appreciated and shows an eye to detail. The costumes, the clothes, the hats, were utterly beautiful and seemed quite accurate. Specifically the women’s dresses. Very well done.
Ah, time for the meat and potatoes. The acting. Amazing job from everyone. From the lazy insouciance of Algernon to the, well, earnestness of Jack, all the actors inhabited their roles as if they were born to them. Algernon is a little flashier, while Jack is a bit long suffering and serious but they both could be over played. That doesn’t happen here. Michael Therriault as Algernon and David Leyshon as Jack were great fun to watch. The rapid fire wordplay was batted back and forth with nary a trip. Even the height difference between the two was played off in a quite natural way. You couldn’t help but want to hear about more of their sordid London outings.
The real stand outs for me were the girls. Marla McLean plays Gwendolen and Chilina Kennedy(a beautiful name I may steal for a character) is Cecily Cardew. The characters come to life in their capable hands. Their odd love for the name Ernest and the characteristics a man with such a name must possess, their feud as rivals to calling each sister, it was really amazing, and hilarious, to watch. And these two young women were just as facile with Wildes language and jokes as the gentlemen. In fact, the cast was top notch from top to bottom, with Lady Bracknell also having some hilarious lines and delivery.
This is Neptunes 50th year and they only keep getting better. I believe George Pothitos, the artistic director, could stage a play against a black curtain and it would be awesome. I’ve never been a theatre guy but I’m coming to love it, and Neptune specifically. A great place with great people who produce great results. The Importance of Being Earnest will have you laughing, sniggering, maybe groaning a time or two. But you will never be bored. It is entertaining from start to finish. So go see it if you can. You won’t be disappointed. And me? I’m off to read more Wilde, while having some cucumber sandwiches.