FANTASTIC STYLE The costumes, set, and cast of The Importance of Being Earnest
"In matters of great importance," observes young Gwendolyn, "style, not sincerity, is the vital thing." Thus the guiding ethos of several amorous Brits in The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde's most effervescent farce of a farce. With the greatest panache do Jack and Algernon (Matthew Delamater and Brian Chamberlain) create alibis and false identities to woo Gwendolyn and Cecily (Abbie Killeen and Meredith Lamothe), women who are oh-so-discriminating about whose names they will croon. The Good Theater's production (directed by Brian P. Allen), with its fine cast and lovely set, is as sparkling and acerbic as a tart lemon squash.
The main pleasure of Wilde's script is its elegant, glistening aristocratic frivolity, and Good Theater's visual manifestations of it are rich stuff. In Janet Montgomery's impressive design, each of three acts brings us new delights of luxury as we move from Algernon's posh bachelor flat in London to the garden and then the drawing room of Jack's country manor. The interiors are flush with the lavish fabrics of the leisure class, and the garden, particularly, is sublime with painted flora and marvelous depth of field. Laid out with plenty of bone china and crust-less finger foods, these are flawless settings for the leisure class's decadent trivialities.
Chamberlain and Delamater are nicely matched as the two bachelor buddies; both are suavely secure in their privilege, and have a great tetchy banter to their rapport. Chamberlain looks all the rascal playboy (particularly in some rather startlingly hued duds), served by the perfectly phlegmatic manservant Lane (Bob McCormack). Delamater balances him well with his darker features, his touch of older gravitas, and his rather more senile manservant Merriman (also McCormack). Lovelorn or not, both manage to wallow in delightfully puerile bickering — watch how stylishly they spar even with mouths full of muffins.
Ah, the lucky objects of their affections! Allen casts another good pair in the women: Killeen's Gwendolyn is just as blithely transported by herself, her voice flirting between sonorousness and shrill. As the younger Cecily, Lamothe looks like a dream with her creamy blonde ringlets, in her powder blue and pearls, gracefully evading the watchful eye of her governess Miss Prism (the marvelously sharp-eyed and mellifluous Kathleen Kimball). She does a particularly smart job of balancing the girl's vapidity and Wilde's wit, creating an impossible creature perfectly suited to farce.
Along with the suitors' true identities, the big obstacle to everyone's happiness is the formidable aunt of Algernon and Gwendolyn, Lady Bracknell. Denise Poirier gives her perhaps the witheringest of withering looks, and her voice is delectably suited to the matron's wry pronouncements. Less is more with this Bracknell, and her subtlety yields some moments to savor: Watch the barest frisson of horror run through her, from her blink to her fingertips, when she learns that her future son-in-law was found in a handbag in Victoria Station.
If only all such troublesome origins and unwanted identities could be resolved with a little deus ex machina and a christening. It's pure pleasure to watch the coincidences unfold on Good Theater's stage, as the lights cue our relief by growing even more golden. A particular joy is how well Allen lets his characters channel Wilde's voice throughout the frothy nothings and fantastic improbabilities that consume his characters: Algernon may reproach that Cecily doesn't talk anything but nonsense. But Wilde has his checkmate in Lamothe's coyly raised eyebrow as Cecily responds, "Nobody does."