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The Importance of Being Earnest, at Prime Stage

I especially enjoyed the sense of childish playfulness brought to the evening by Tom Driscoll and Andrew Swackhammer, as Jack and Algy



On the comedy landscape, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest looms likes Mount Everest. No matter what's in the foreground, there it is rising up, tantalizingly unassailable. Eventually every serious theater person is going to attempt an ascent and, because perfection is unobtainable, they're all doomed to failure. (On a couple occasions I've met the same ignoble fate myself.) So why do people even try? Well, as George Mallory might have said: "Because it's there."

This time, Prime Stage Theater and director Richard Keitel lead an expedition to the summit of this comedy of manners about Victorian gentlemen Jack and Algernon, who, in the pursuit of romance, invent a fictional brother, Ernest, to do their wooing. It all goes delightfully wrong when the fiction collides with fact, and love, reputation and muffins are put in jeopardy.

Seeing that it's Wilde and not, say, Apatow, the language of the piece is as important as the story being told. Wilde famously said he spent an entire morning debating putting a comma into the work and an entire afternoon debating taking it out. We don't really have that sort of discipline in contemporary theater, and the presentational style of acting for which the show was written has long since vanished. So it's going to take enormous effort to bend a company to Wilde's style, rather than the other way around.

Keitel and a strongly talented cast have clearly given their all. A perfect Earnest is impossible, but the essential job of any production is not to get in the way of the text. In that, Keitel and company succeed admirably.

What I especially enjoyed was the sense of childish playfulness brought to the evening by Tom Driscoll and Andrew Swackhammer, as Jack and Algy: Their relationship is that of younger and older brother, even if they didn't realize it at the time. Driscoll also does a great job of working within the play's style to great comedic effect.

A special mention to Johnmichael Bohach and Lindsay Tejan, set and costumes, for creating, out of what I am sure are limited resources, a lushly outfitted production.

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