In a satirical exposition of high-society England, the artists at A Noise Within Playhouse brought to life the buffoonery of a tangled love story in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a farcical play by Oscar Wilde. The play will run at the popular Pasadena theater through Nov. 21.
Wilde’s most celebrated play exemplifies his tendency to poke fun at the absurd nature of late-Victorian London. The plot revolves around John “Jack” Worthing, who falls in love with Gwendolen Fairfax but encounters resistance from her mother because of his duplicitous past. Algernon Moncrieff, a good friend of Jack, nephew of Lady Bracknell and cousin of Gwendolen, continually complicates the love story with his mischievousness.
Although this production’s portrayals of Algernon and Jack were at times flat, the excellent representations of Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell and the supporting cast made for an overall successful show. These solid performances were further complicated by the intimacy of the playhouse and the enjoyably lavish garb of the characters.
But for timeless plays like “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the success of a performance ultimately depends on the ability of the actors to bring the beloved characters to life.
Algernon, played by Adam Haas Hunter, is a young, rich bachelor living in London, whose flamboyant nature, excessive cleverness and general distaste for seriousness sets the tone for all three acts. Initially, Hunter’s portrayal of Algernon was unconvincing; his lines seemed over-rehearsed and his body language was unnatural. However, as the show developed, Hunter settled into his role and did well to synchronize the cast and even elicit bursts of laughter from the audience.
Jack, played by Christopher Salazar, lives a double life: In the country, Jack is the head of a household of outcasts, but in London, he assumes the name and identity of Ernest. In the script, Jack is a serious character who juxtaposes Algernon’s outlandishness. Salazar, however, failed to capture his character’s pensive mood at times, though he did manage exhibit Jack’s range of emotions commendably.
Standout Carolyn Ratteray performed the role of Gwendolyn brilliantly, perfectly executing the character’s unusual balance between maturity and immaturity. Gwendolyn is both an intelligent high-class lady and rebellious young lover, and Ratteray smoothly transitioned from performing an eloquent oratory on the flaws of modern culture to giving Jack a playful kiss.
Gwendolyn’s strict mother Lady Bracknell, played by Jean Gilpin, joined her as one of the best performances of the night. Gilpin added depth to the opening and final acts of the play with her sophisticated solemnity, not to mention her snappy lines that echoed throughout the playhouse.
In Acts two and three, the setting transitioned from London to the countryside. The plot evolved into an intricate jumble of social arrangements, allowing for the introduction of some supporting performances that raised the caliber of the show. Algernon caused trouble by showing up at Jack’s country house and wooing his ward Cecily Cardew. Cecily, supported by her teacher Miss Prism, elevated the show to new heights. Lane (Algernon’s butler) and The Mariman (Jack’s butler) performed their smaller roles perfectly.
The play at A Noise Within developed much like the script: initially, it was jam-packed with witty one-liners, but it concluded with a surprisingly complex plot twist. In the final two acts, three interconnected love stories unfolded simultaneously, bringing the play from simple farce to a scintillating piece of art. The characters developed naturally, and the climax was riveting. Overall, the character, plot and design of the show made it a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” will play on Nov. 13, 14, 20 and 21 at A Noise Within Playhouse in Pasadena. Student Rush discounted tickets can be purchased an hour before the play for $20 with a valid student ID card.