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Wit Runs Wilde in "The Importance of Being Earnest"
The cat of "The Importance of being Ernest" directed by J.R. Sullivan. Photo b Gregory Costanzo.
Directed by J.R. Sullivan
The Pearl Theatre Company
80 St. Marks Place at 1st Ave.
From April 15, 2008
Tues. 7 p.m., Thurs. thru Sat. 8 p.m., matinees Wed., Sat. & Sun. 2 p.m.
$20-$50 (212) 598-9802 or www.pearltheatre.org
Extended thru June 8, 2008
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 24, 2008
If there ever was a play that's almost impossible to destroy it might be Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." Yet given modern directors' inability to leave a good thing alone, one can be assured nothing is safe. So when "The Importance of Being Earnest" is presented as gleefully and energetically as the Pearl has done this season, it is still cause for celebrations.
The play is flawlessly directed by J.R. Sullivan, who keeps the action going at such a brisk clip the three acts seem to fly by. But much of the effortless quality of the production is due to the excellent cast.
Bradford Cover is perfectly Victorian as Jack Worthing, the young man who created a ne'er-do-well brother named Ernest so he can flee the boring country for the more stimulating city. Sean McNall is impish and playful as Algernon Mancrieff, who "invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury" so he could go down to the country whenever he pleased.
Of course, both of them need to become Ernest, Jack to woo and win Algernon's cousin, Gwendolyn Fairfax (Rachel Botchan), daughter of the imperious and caustic Lady Bracknell (the imperious and caustic Carol Schultz), and Algernon to woo and win, the comely Cecily Cardew (Ali Ahn), Jack's ward, grand-daughter of his adoptive father.
But the real joke, as Wilde so skillfully tells it, is that no one is earnest at all. Thus Algernon tells Jack, "in married life three's company and two is none." And Jack informs Algernon that "it's perfectly easy to be cynical."
Lady Bracknell, that mistress of the absurd, responds to Jack's revelation that he is an orphan with the famous line, "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."
In fact, the only two truly sincere people in "The Importance of Being Earnest" are the love-stuck and seriously incompetent governess, Miss Prism (Joanne Camp) and the object of her affections, the virginal Rev. Canon Chasuble (TJ Edwards). And they are totally ridiculous.
It is Prism who connects the dots and provides Wilde with the solution to his happily contrived plot. And Camp, in that pivotal role, comes close to stealing the show, as well she should.
Harry Feiner gives the play three lovely sets: Algernon's flat, the garden at Jack's manor house and the drawing room at the same house. They are the ideally proper settings for Wilde's very improper absurdities.
Oscar Wilde, who believed so much in art for art's sake, has created a play which is witty for the sake of wit. The Pearl production makes every moment delightful.
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