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Forever Wilde

By Kathryn Ceceri

The Importance of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde, directed by Derek Campbell
The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, through Nov. 30

Some may tell you that the reason a play like Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest continues to reverberate today is the age-old conflict between truth and artifice, appearance and illusion. But the fact is, it’s a lot of fun to watch a dedicated party animal at work.

Wilde’s last play, written just before the legal troubles that led to his imprisonment for homosexuality, set the standard for witty dialogue that lasts up to this day. In the production now at Hubbard Hall, Director Derek Campbell has made Earnest as up-to-date as an episode of Frasier.

Algernon Moncrief is an 1890s upper-crust London bachelor whose goal in life is to do as little as he can and have a great time doing it. Take away the velvet smoking jacket and the butler and, as played by Jason Dolmetsch, he could be Niles’ best friend.

“Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessively pretty ward who is only just 18?” he asks fellow profligate Earnest Worthing (Brian Reese), who, he’s just been told, is really named Jack and is using the excuse of visiting his imaginary brother in London to escape from his country home (which may or may not be in Shropshire) to spend time with Algie’s beautiful cousin.

“Oh! One doesn’t blurt these things out to people. Cecily and Gwendolen are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends. I’ll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister,” replies Earnest/Jack. “Women only do that,” Algernon shoots back, “when they have called each other a lot of other things first.”

Of course, both Cecily (Katie Ann McDermott) and Gwendolen (Stephanie Moffett) are busy engineering their own romantic schemes, while Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s formidable mother (Cynthia Weinrich), is intent on making sure any match lives up to her standards. Wilde makes sure his female characters are as aggressive, if not more so, than the men, while maintaining their air of decorum.

The talented Hubbard cast gets right into the Wilde milieu, delivering their lines with fine comic timing and expression. Although the play is long (nearly three hours, including two 15-minute intermissions), Campbell keeps the action moving and the zingers whizzing by. The set by Alley Morse uses the space between the proscenium and the balcony as a “theater in the round,” which makes for a few missed looks and asides to the audience but in general works well. The lush period costumes by Junio Anthes-Moody do a good job of evoking Victorian aristocracy, with perhaps just a flounce or two too many on Lady Bracknell’s gown.

At the show’s second performance there was a little fumbling with props which hopefully will be smoothed out as the show goes on. And on a frigid evening the temperature in the theater itself was a tad cool.

Still, with this production as my introduction to the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, I can truthfully say I was completely won over.

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