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The Importance of Being Earnest

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More than a hundred years after its initial production, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is still a mainstay for theaters across the country. Stage 62 is the latest here to embrace Wilde's witty social satire, in an appropriately earnest, if ultimately misguided, rendering.

The story is straight out of a lesser Shakespearean comedy. To justify his frequent trips to the city, Jack Worthing assumes the guise of his fictitious brother Ernest. Jack's best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, employs a similar tactic (which he calls "bunburying") when he visits Jack in the country. When he realizes that Jack has been bunburying about town as Ernest, and fallen in love with his cousin Gwendolyn Fairfax, Algernon turns the tables, presenting himself at Jack's country estate as the real Ernest, and seducing Jack's 18-year-old ward, Cecily Cardew. Then Jack's and Algernon's respective schemes begin to spectacularly unravel, threatening their blossoming romances.

Under Bob Scott's uneven direction, the cast of 10 devotes more time to refining their inconsistent British accents than to exploring Wilde's prose. And even as much of the 19th-century British humor (including tiresome jokes about the eating of muffins and other faux pas) fails to translate, the cast's abilities are no match for Wilde's more cleverly barbed witticisms. Left largely to their own devices, the players barely tread water throughout the two-and-a-half hour production.

There are exceptions. Allison Fatla is delightful as the impudent Cecily, grounding the production's disjointed second half with an energy and focus that are otherwise lacking. Jordan Walsh, meanwhile, perfectly captures Algernon's bored cynicism; his insightful characterization mines Wilde's text for hidden layers while highlighting the absurdities of Algernon's world. And though Mace Porac falls victim to the show's many pitfalls, her haughty presence suggests she could make for a very good Lady Bracknell -- in a different production.

It may also simply be that The Importance of Being Earnest has seen its day. Unlike the richness of Shakespeare's drama or the vitality of Chekhov's naturalistic storytelling, Wilde's commentary seems chained to an era when romantic entanglements were dictated by inviolable social hierarchies. That Stage 62 fails to capture that era is little fault of its own.

 

The Importance of Being Earnest continues through Sun., May 18. Stage 62, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-429-6262

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