Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Firescape Theatre is presenting an excellent production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest performed by admirable cast of eight splendid actors with spot-on British accents. This social parody of the Victorian era is sometimes called a trivial comedy for serious persons. When it opened at the St. James's Theatre in London on February 14, 1895, it was an instant success, astounding audiences who were accustomed to Victoria melodrama. The play has been produced in revivals ever since. I have seen many productions of this wonderful farce, both here and the United Kingdom. It still has social relevance in today's world.
The clever comedy set in 1890s London skewers the habits of the upper classes with some of the most delightful lines to grace a stage. It follows the monkeyshines of preening bachelors Jack Worthing (Stephen L. Wilson) and Algernon Moncrieff (Nic A. Sommerfeld), who have secret lives outside of London. Jack lives in the country and has an 18-year-old ward named Cecily (Kelli McCrann), travels to London to visit his fictitious brother Ernest, and wants to marry Algernon's cousin Gwendolen (Jacqueline O'Kelly).
Algernon escapes to the country on the pretext of visiting a fictitious sick friend named Bunbury. He meets Cecily under the pretext that he is named Ernest, and he falls for her. Both Gwendolen and Cecily are besotted with the name Ernest and become overexcited, especially when Lady Bracknell (Scott Hayes) appears on the scene.
The Importance of Being Earnest, a dazzlingly funny work, remains fresh and the playwright's amazing use of language and classily drawn depictions still hold up today. Max Beerbohm, the noted Saturday Review critic said in 1902 that this play was "unlike any other, and in its kind it still seems perfect."
The cast do full justice to the play. Stephen L. Wilson as Jack and Nic A. Sommerfeld as Algernon give terrific performances. They derive marvelous chemistry with their pitch-perfect comic timing and clear enunciation of words. Jacqueline O'Kelly is charming as Gwendolen and Kelli McCrann is delightful as Cecily. Duncan Heath with his powerful theatrical voice is enchanting as Reverend Canon Chasuble in his manner of speaking, and the rector's romantic interest, Miss Prism, is played by Kim Saunders, who is delightful as the prim and proper teacher. Scott Hayes is outstanding as the as the inquisitive, cantankerous, and snobbish battleaxe Lady Bracknell in period costume. He is utterly sidesplitting.
Director Robert Zimmerman moves the action along at a fast clip.
The Importance of Being Earnest plays through November 12, 2017, at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason Street 5th Floor For tickets www.firescapetheatre.com/.