Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Importance of Being Earnest
Walnut Street Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell


Alanna J. Smith, Daniel Fredrick,
Mary Martello, Jake Blouch,
and Lauren Sowa

Photo by Mark Garvin
Today we associate the Victorian era with sexual restraint and strict social codes of conduct, but as Algernon Moncrieff so aptly quips, “[t]he truth is rarely pure and never simple.” The Importance of Being Earnest is a polite and playful satire of Victorian morality with a lighthearted tone that belies its biting social commentary. Oscar Wilde's script is a sea of comic irony, wry satire, farcical near misses, and witty one liners. Director Bob Carlton's charmingly straightforward production barely skims the surface of humor available in Wilde's spectacular play, but along with a stunning set and gorgeous costumes, that is enough to create a thoroughly amusing theatrical experience.

The action in Earnest centers around young gadabout Algernon Moncrieff and his slightly more serious friend Jack Worthington. Jack plans to propose to Algernon's cousin Gwendolen, but her mother Lady Bracknell is not at all convinced that Jack possesses adequate social possibilities. The bachelors both have secrets to hide, but things start to get really complicated when Algernon falls in love with Jack's sheltered ward Cecily Cardew.

Jake Blouch gives a solid performance as Jack Worthington and Alanna J. Smith is delightful as young Cecily, but it is Mary Martello's turn as the matronly Lady Bracknell that steals the show. Martello delivers a Victorian grande dame while still giving the audience an occasional glimpse of Bracknell's humanity. In a role that can easily become comedy caricature, the nuance in Martello's performance is a gift. Unfortunately, there is no nuance in Daniel Fredrick's depiction of Algernon, which starts out over the top and has nowhere to go from there.

Mark Mariani's luxurious costume designs are dazzling from start to finish, but Martello's dress and hat (oh that hat!) combination in the second act is particularly delicious. Robert Koharchik's set design is similarly lush. I would gladly spend an afternoon reading in the flower-filled garden of Jack's country house.

Carlton's glittering production is a great pleasure to watch, even though it does not offer any innovation or special insight. There are lots of laughs throughout, though the cast does not attempt to bring out the subtle winks or acerbic irony that can make The Importance of Being Earnest uniquely hilarious. In the end ,Carlton delivers a visually stunning, well paced, funny play that will only seem less than fantastic to those of us who have been lucky enough to see just how funny Earnest can be.

The Importance of Being Earnest runs through April 30, 2017, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster.

The Cast:
Lane (Manservant): Kevin Bergen*
John Worthington: Jake Blouch*
Algernon Moncrieff: Daniel Fredrick*
Lady Bracknell: Mary Martello*
Miss Prism: Ellie Mooney*
Rev. Canon Chasuble: Peter Schmitz*
Cecily Cardew: Alanna J. Smith*
Gwendolen Fairfax: Lauren Sowa*
* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States

Production and Design Staff:
Director: Bob Carlton
Scenic Design: Robert Koharchik
Costume Design: Mark Mariani
Lighting Design: Stuart Duke
Sound Design: Elizabeth Atkinson


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