If Oscar Wilde could be magically transported through time to 2013, he would surely give his enthusiastic approval not only to the fact that his plays were still being produced, but also to the fact that the Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s treatment of The Importance of Being Earnest–universally agreed as Wilde’s wittiest theatrical brainchild–was such a fine realization of his work. The Maryland Ensemble theatre has a small, intimate stage of 105 seats. The company uses clever, minimal set changes and selective use of lighting and sound to set the tone for the production. The audience feels very close, if not part of the production. Additionally Wilde, the author and playwright, was almost literally with us, with enormous prints of portions of his face illuminated on every supporting member in the theatre, which lent a thoroughly informal, hipster air to the setting.
The story takes place in 1890s England, where Jack and Algy both use the name “Ernest” when they want to instill a little excitement into their lives. All goes as planned until the two use the pseudonym while falling in love with Gwendolyn and Cecily, threatening their romantic ventures. Paths cross and hilarity ensues in what is considered Wilde’s wittiest and finest comedy.
…spot on and thoroughly professional.
The Maryland Ensemble Theatre, under the direction of Joe Brady, who made his directorial debut with the theatre last year with It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, puts together a fresh, spirited, and joyous performance of The Importance of Being Earnest that can be enjoyed by all. Wilde’s penchant for witty wordplay is not lost on any of the players, who delivered up a genuinely satisfying performance of the play. Brady is a director, actor, and writer who holds an MFA in Directing, is a graduate of Second City, Chicago, and is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Hood College.
Playing in his second MET show (It’s a Wonderful Life being his first), Matt Kline proves himself a thoroughly capable actor in the role of John Worthington (Jack), a large role for any actor. Steve Custer, playing Algernon Moncrieff (Algie), in addition to being an accomplished actor, is also the Associate Artistic Director of Washington DC’s Landless Theatre Company. Custer’s Algie is a likable rouge from the outset, and his presence resonates throughout the play. The fireworks that the male duo load through their shared penchant for mischief are set off brilliantly by the two female leads in the second act. The onstage chemistry of the couples is unmistakable and the comedic timing is beautifully executed. Veteran actresses Shea-Mikal-Green as Cecily Cardew and Courtney McLaughlin as Gwendolyn Fairfax glide on stage and make the exchanges between the female leads lively and electric. The women are breezy and wise in their Victorian garb and seem well-suited to the period dialogue. The delivery and timing were nearly flawless and I found myself laughing at even some of the more the subtle quips. The actors and actresses, to a man (or woman), delivered Wilde’s lines clearly, never getting caught up in the nuances of British English cadences, a struggle for some actors and troupes I have seen.
The supporting cast shines as well, with Julie Herber, Associate Artistic Director of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre and a seasoned actress, delivers a comic performance as the uber-Victorian Lady Bracknell, delivering some of the funniest lines of the play with aplomb. Nancy Blum, an actress who is also on the board of directors of Rockville Little Theatre, is a perfectly prim schoolmarm as Miss Prism, playing the teetotaler pedagogue with what seemed to be just the right amount of late 19th century repression. Playwright, filmmaker, and actor Reiner Prochaska provides a likable and earnest Rev. Chasuble.
All in all, the production is a very watchable performance that reflects some of the best of the genius that was and is Wilde. The only fault that I can find lay in some of the costuming which includes some somewhat odd-looking suits for the character of Jack that I suspect don’t reflect the period. Otherwise the costuming, set design, sound and lighting were spot on and thoroughly professional.
The actors are supported by the talents of Tirza Fogle (Costume Design), Devin Gaither (Properties Design), Tad Janes (Scenic Design), Tabetha White (Lighting Design), and Steve Younkins (Sound Design).
Running Time: two hours and thirty minutes with two ten-minute intermissions.
The Importance of Being Earnest by the Maryland Ensemble Theatre plays until November 10th at 31 W Patrick St. Frederick, MD 20701. For tickets, call the box office at 301-694-4744 or purchase them online.