THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
"Janice Blixt shows a healthy respect for Wilde and the script by letting it play exactly as written and trusting that the audience doesn't have to be spoon fed its charm or wit. Under Blixt's light hand, this production is a playful one that speaks to the absurdity and triviality of proper life." - Encore Michigan
Wilde Awards, 2014*
Wilde Awards, 2014
Wilde Awards, 2014
*Michigan Professional Theatre Awards
Best Production encompasses Best Director
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Baughman Theatre - Jackson MI
MSF's 'The Importance of Being Earnest' is another jewel - Ann Holt, MLive
The Michigan Shakespeare Festival has never used the Baughman Theatre's beautiful red grand drape curtain before.
However, it is absolutely appropriate for Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt's traditional staging of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," the second production of its 20th season.
This elegant Victorian confection, set in 1895 London, is a light-hearted comical farce. Wilde referred to his best known and last work as "a trivial play about trivial things," although many will find meaning in the satire of the social mores of his day and perhaps ours as well.
"Earnest" has been described as the second-most known and quoted play in English after "Hamlet," making it a perfect addition to this season.
Friends "Earnest" Worthing, played by Joe Lehman, and Algernon Moncrief (David Blixt) are well-off young men who have both devised clever ways to avoid social obligations.
Earnest is in love with Algernon's cousin Gwendolyn (Rachel Hull). In order to marry her, he must pass muster with her domineering mother, Lady Bracknell (David Turrentine), by proving himself both economically and socially worthy.
Algernon finds a cigarette lighter inscribed "To Uncle Jack from Cecily" (Lydia Hiller) and becomes curious.
Earnest explains that she is his ward and admits his name is actually John. Earnest is the name he has given his imaginary brother, who he claims lives in the city, allowing him the freedom to be away from his country home whenever he pleases.
Surprisingly it turns out that Algernon has an imaginary friend, too. "Bunbury" lives in the country and is often ill. So, Algernon decides to leave the city and go bunburying in the country so he can drop in when Jack is away and meet the mysterious Cecily.
Things then get complicated, but you won't have any trouble following the further confusions, misunderstandings, and mistaken identities, including those concerning the proper Miss Prism (Wendy Katz Hiller), the modest Rev. Chasuble (Alan Ball), and a handbag.
The servants (Brandon St. Clair Saunders and Rick Eva) sometimes silently, sometimes not, comment on and underscore the nonsense they must endure.
Director Blixt, understanding that Wilde's words are important, brought in Dialect Specialist Elise Kauzlaric, who did an excellent job coaching the cast with their British accents. But energy and pacing are crucial as well and Blixt keeps things moving swiftly along. One guesses the actors are having as much fun as the audience.
This is another strong ensemble achievement for the company.
In "Hamlet" he may play Claudius, the King, but in "Earnest" David Turrentine is the indomitable Lady Bracknell, a role often played by a man.
Turrentine is marvelous in the role without having to resort to being campy for laughs. After all, he has some of the best lines in the play.
Lehman and David Blixt are delightful sparring partners, verbally and physically. The glee with which Blixt annoys Jack in the muffin scene, and Jack's attempts to respond reasonably are very silly.
Lydia Hiller's Cecily bubbles and flits in the most charming and careless manner. It's hard to believe this is the same actress who embodies the tragic Ophelia in "Hamlet." The sophisticated and wiser Gwendolyn, played with authority by Rachel Hull declares they will be sisters until it appears that they might in fact be rivals. Then the sparks fly.
Kudos to Scenic Designer Jeromy Hopgood, who year after year solves complicated problems creating sets for three productions that have to live in the same space. He is nothing short of a magician.
For "Earnest," he built a framework that works for all three locations, can be quickly altered and further defined by how the space is furnished.
Suzanne Young's costumes are exquisite. Everyone on stage looks gorgeous in beautifully detailed Victorian dress.
Kate Hopgood provides the lightest touch with her music and sound design. Diane Fairchild lights the stage but occasional shadows of the actors appearing on the sides of the theatre are a bit distracting.
Earnest actors keep the farce authentic - Bridgette M. Redman, Encore Michigan
"There are no small roles, only small actors."
Never is this more apparent than in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival's "The Importance of Being Earnest" in which the two butlers, played by Rick Eva and Brandon St. Clair Saunders, have antics that rival the leads in comic effect.
Saunders anticipates every household need, and Eva mimics his masters with all of their silly demands. They're funny, amusing and nearly steal every scene they're in.
Nor is that a light task when the others they share the stage with shine equally brightly. It is a cast that glitters in its gaiety in a fashion that would make Oscar Wilde proud.
Wilde's comedy has enjoyed enduring popularity as a silly story about two society men who each have secret lives to escape the social conventions and obligations of town and country. Jack Worthing (played by Joe Lehman) and Algernon Moncrieff (played by David Blixt) each escape their usual homes by assuming false personalities under which they fall in love with two different women. They both must overcome society's roadblocks and the fickle nature of their own lovers to make it to the altar and the wedded state.
Directed by Janice Blixt, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is played as written, with attention to all the whimsy that Wilde embedded in this 19th Century script. It is farce, and Janice Blixt shows a healthy respect for Wilde and the script by letting it play exactly as written and trusting that the audience doesn't have to be spoon fed its charm or wit.
Even David Turrentine's Lady Bracknell is not forced into the over-the-top cross-dressing exaggeration. Rather, the pure humor of a man playing this over-bearing society woman who is an arbiter of all that is proper is allowed to simply happen. Turrentine shines because he plays the role as a woman, not as a man playing a woman. There is no falsetto or overly mincing movement. Rather, Turrentine's Lady Bracknell is a strong woman who is overbearing and makes the men in her life cower in fear.
David Blixt and Lehman are charming as the two gentlemen who are madly in love despite a fair amount of cynicism over their expected roles in life. Both embrace the absurdities of their roles and the situations the characters find themselves in. David Blixt is particularly delightful in the scene where Lydia Hiller's Cecily Cardew informs him that they got engaged months before they met.
Hiller's Cecily is silly and sweet, with an energy that is completely different from the Ophelia Hiller played in "Hamlet" earlier in the day. Cecily is an airhead who is all sentiment and no sense. She flits. She flitters. Hiller makes the most of her airiness while never making her a clown or making a mockery of the character. Like all the actors in this production, she stays authentic.
Just as David Blixt and Lehman play off each other with great chemistry, so too do Hiller and Rachel Hull in the role of Gwendolyn Fairfax have a great stage relationship whether the sparks are flying between them or they're declaring love for each other.
It is also fun to watch mother-daughter pair as Wendy Katz Hiller plays governess Miss Prism to her daughter's Cecily.
Rounding out the cast is Alan Ball, who is the doddering country minister who is an intellectual most talented at putting his male parishioners to sleep and attracting the attentions of such single women as Miss Prism.
Each actor in this ensemble is committed to letting the script shine for all it is worth. They make choices that support the script and keep the humor at a quick pace. They also adeptly handle the accents while keeping the language clear and easy to understand. For this, they had assistance from dialect specialist Elise Kauzlaric.
Adding to the traditional presentation of the play are Suzanne Young's gorgeous period costumes. She even makes Turrentine look natural in a full Victorian gown. She also clearly worked in tandem and communicated well with scenic designer Jeromy Hopgood, for the set and costumes were of similar colors and hues. In a rare move for the Shakespeare Festival, the play opens and the scenes change with the grand curtain down and Diane Fairchild's purple lights shining upon it. Behind the curtain are the changes that transform the stage from Algernon's townhouse to Jack's garden and then to Jack's parlor.
Under Janice Blixt's light hand, this production is a playful one that speaks to the absurdity and triviality of proper life. The comedy shines most where it is most restrained and becomes a dalliance with pure entertainment and laughter.