No alibi needed

Earnest-ness at the Stage at Spring Point
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 18, 2007
FROLICKING FEW: The cast of Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest | by Oscar Wilde | Directed by Janet Ross | Produced by The Stage at Spring Point, at the Spring Point Walkway on the Southern Maine Community College campus in South Portland | through July 28 | 207.828.0128
If you’ve ever needed a good alibi to get out of that employee picnic or in-law reunion, consider the scam cooked up by upstanding British cad Jack (Keith Anctil): he has devised a fictional alter-ego — his wicked “brother” Earnest — who is in dire and conveniently frequent need of attention.

When Jack fancies some time away from the country, “Earnest” can be counted upon to have fallen into some sort of debauchery in town. Then, visiting his pal Algernon (Bill Cook) in town, Jack adopts a more respectable version of Earnest as his own persona. Naturally, farce ensues, as “Earnest” suddenly comes into high demand by two comely ladies. Thus the dilemma of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the fifth annual al fresco production of The Stage at Spring Point, an immaculately acted show directed by Janet Ross at the Spring Point Walkway, on the campus of Southern Maine Community College.

Since “a man who is much talked about is always very attractive,” as Jack’s attractive young ward Cecily (Ariel Francoeur) puts it, the idea of wicked brother Earnest conjures up some schoolgirl fantasies in the country — a hormonal phenomenon that Algernon is quite prepared to capitalize upon. And because long, soft assonance and righteous connotation feel so nice in the mouth, Jack’s paramour in the city, Gwendolyn (Amy Pelkey) is attached less to “Jack” than to “Earnest.” Anctil’s Jack is endearingly uptight, easily frustrated or bewildered, while Cook’s Algernon is loose and charmingly louche; and their ladies are beautifully drawn, seamlessly lyrical and savvy, hysterical and hard. Pelkey smartly conveys both Gwendolyn’s high-class acuity and her warmer, more womanly needs; and Francoeur is a girlishly meringue-light delight as she swoons, pouts and babbles dulcetly around the men.

Earnest also boasts one hell of a big, imperious foil of British womanhood, and director Ross has had the gleeful good sense to cast her in drag. As the wide and formidable Lady Bracknell, local Equity virtuoso Mark Honan is a pitch-perfect hoot. His auburn-wigged matron shoos, wheezes, and commands everybody’s destinies with utterly snide decorum. Wilde entrusted Bracknell with some of the snarkiest lines of the play, and Honan’s delivery is wicked and luxurious — in Bracknell’s mouth, her archness is pure honey.

Supporting roles are filled out grippingly, as Cecily’s prim governess Miss Prism (Karen Ball) and the household rector Dr. Chasuble (Harlan Baker) carry on with tweedy amorousness. And as both Lane and Merriman, butlers to Jack and Algernon, Nate Amadon works wry and subtle wonders as servants who look with decorous but undisguised amusement upon the goings-on of the colorful aristocrats.

Their decadent costuming, designed by Patrick Dullea and expertly tailored by Carol Thurston, matches the would-be lovers in pairs — blue and gold for Jack and Gwendolyn, pink and green for Algernon and Cecily. The gentlemen’s jackets are impeccably cut, and the ladies’ sleeves are deliciously puffed. Then there’s the massive sartorial force of Lady Bracknell, sheathed in what must be yards and yards of sumptuous if not entirely tasteful stuff — dusty rose and olive green, lilac and florals. And plenty of bows and fake rosebuds.

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