The 413 Project Theater’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” now playing for two more weekends at the Grand Tea Room is about as up close and personal as you can get for this comic masterpiece. If you enjoy the idea of intimate theater, this is it!
Oscar Wilde’s classic 1895 comedy farce lampooned the social conventions of the Victorian age, and is still very popular today, where it is the most performed of Wilde’s play. Setting the performance amidst the genteel, gracious surroundings of the Tea Room is a brilliant stroke, although it does involve a little neck twisting for some.
“Earnest” is both witty and wacky, and in the words of director Chelsea Robinson it is a combination of “humor and insanity.” It is a giggle-worthy script, as befits one of the greatest voices in the English language, and although many of the social issues it lampoons are dated today—such as requiring a parent’s permission in order to get married and the monumental social differences between the classes—nevertheless it does have a lot of fun trashing the society that uplifted Wilde and ultimately brought him down.
Given that the actors in “Earnest” are all very good, seeing them perform at such close range allows the audience to appreciate the depth of their expression—almost as if you are eavesdropping on some old friends.
The story concerns two young members of the British upper class near the turn of the century, John “Jack” Worthing and Algernon Moncrief. And it says something about the genius of Oscar Wilde that he can weave a pattern of such wit, word play and outright laughs at a drawing room comedy that turns mainly around their names and the misunderstandings that arise from them.
Jack, played by Adam Lightfoot, has been fooling a lot of people by pretending to be someone named Earnest part of the time, while Algernon has invented a friend who is sick most of the time so that he has an excuse for missing social and family events he would rather avoid. He has even invented a name for this sort of tomfoolery: Bunburyism, after the invented invalid Bambury.
This sets up the scene for misunderstandings galore between the young men and the young women they are smitten with (it would be too much to say that they are actually in love with them.)
I was particularly impressed by Daniel Robinson (Algernon) who portrays the listless young member of the upper class drifting through life without much purpose, but with a wicked wit. He speaks volumes with the arch of an eyebrow or a sidelong glance of disdain or disbelief.
But while John, (Adam Lightfoot) is less flashy, his acting is just as solid. The leads are supported by a fine cast. Chelsea Robinson, as Gwendolen, is also the director, which makes her scintillating interpretation of John’s love interest all the more remarkable. This is her third stint as director with the 413 Project. She comes by her English accent honestly since she is, as she describes it, an “English nerd.”
Hannah Dorss plays Cecily Cardew, the other love interest, who has been keeping a passionate diary about Algernon—including an engagement—without ever having met him before. When they finally meet, foolishness ensues.
Rounding out the cast is Jacob Painter, in the double role of two butlers, one Scottish; Jeffrey Duncan as the annoying vicar Dr. Chasuble, Amy Dell as the annoying old maid Miss Prism (I’m sure her name has some hidden meaning) and Dean Nygaard as Lady Bracknell, the stuffy old aunt who has some of the best lines in the play.
The Grand Avenue Tea Room, with its high tea serving that includes such delicacies as cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream, is the perfect venue for such a farcical comedy of manners.
The play will continue there for two more weekends. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see it. If you’re not lucky, maybe they’ll bring it back.
The Grand Tea Room is located at 102 West Grand Avenue. You can call them at 760-715-0790.