Oh, no! Not another production of Oscar Wilde’s silly, wordy “Trivial Comedy for Serious People!” I’d seen too many college and community productions of the English comedy of manners to sit through the long play.
But wait! This is Gamm! And this is Trinity’s Fred Sullivan Jr. directing!
Sullivan approached “Earnest” with the task of “making sure that the play is crystal clear to someone unfamiliar with the play but exciting and engaging to someone who has seen it many times before.”
I’m very familiar with the play, but I heard and understood lines that I had never heard before, thanks to the excellent British diction of the actors (credit dialect coach Wendy Overly).
Wilde’s witticisms come at you fast and furious and it is easy to miss a few gems, but under Sullivan’s direction and great comic timing from the actors few are missed. The set allows you to be close to the actors who occasionally speak directly to you and move into the audience.
The plot centers around Jack Worthing (Jeff Church) and Algernon Moncreiff (Marc Dante Mancini), two friends who fall deeply in love with two ladies (Alison Russo and Nora Eschenheimer) who have both been infatuated by the name “Earnest” and are both pursued by the fibbing friends. There’s a message here about the troubles that lying can cause, as both men get deeper and deeper in trouble, setting up a number of mistaken identity situations and plot twists.
So what makes Gamm’s version of the sometimes talky and most-of-the-time silly play?
To begin with, the play opens with its author addressing the audience, setting the tone for what is to follow.
Brandon Whitehead makes a wonderful, conceited, opinionated Wilde. But that’s not enough. He also assumes the roles of four servants, keeping the action moving and closing the two-hour play brilliantly.
While the play revolves around Jack and Algernon, the other characters have their chances to shine, and shine they do.
Eschenheimer, who learned her craft at both the University of Hawaii and URI, has taken the role of Gwendolen, object of Jack’s affections, to new heights, milking every line she delivers. Combined with her conniving aunt, Lady Bracknell (Deb Martin), they chew up the stage. Martin, an accomplished Boston area actress, knows how to deliver a line, and she also can draw a laugh with her hilarious body language. Gamm veterans Tom Gleadow and Jeanine Kane have smaller but important roles, especial during the clever twist at the end, which allows for everyone to live happily ever after.
Take the advice of a reviewer who thought that he had seen enough “Importance of Being Earnest” to last a lifetime. See one more! And see it at Gamm sometime between now and October 15. Call 723-4266 for reservations or order online at www.gammtheatre.org. Tickets are $44-$60, with many performances selling out.