“The Importance of Being Earnest,” the final show in the Forest Roberts Theatre “Drop Everything” season, was described by the playwright himself — Oscar Wilde — as being “a trivial comedy for serious people.”
And in that assertion, he was right. “Earnest” could lift even the most serious of hearts. Set in Victorian Britain, Wilde’s masterwork is a scathing, over-the-top satire on upper-class society.
The Forest Roberts Theatre rendition begins as two butlers, played by Timmy Grams and Joe Gehart, cross the stage in a most serious manner carrying signs announcing the act and setting. The curtain rises, revealing the flat of Algernon Moncrieff (Travis Moscinski).
Algernon pretends to have a friend in the country named Bunbury who is constantly in ill health. That way, whenever he wants to escape responsibility, he can feign that his friend has fallen ill again and run off to the country to avoid whatever it is he doesn’t want to do. This is a practice which he calls “Bunburying.”
“Algernon’s goal in the first act is really to be what a modern-day person would call a player,” Moscinski said.
John “Jack” Worthing (Ben Filipowicz), Algernon’s real-life best friend, lives in the country but makes frequent visits to London. Algernon knows him as Ernest Worthing, but when he leaves his cigarette case in Algernon’s flat, Algernon discovers the inscription, “From little Cecily to her dear Uncle Jack.” Here it is revealed that Jack, too, is a “Bunburyist.”
Jack’s reasons for Bunburying are to visit Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Emily Couling). He is enthralled with her and wishes to propose.
“What Jack really wants is to keep his secrets hidden and to marry Gwendolen,” Filipowicz said.
However, Jack faces two adversities. First, Gwendolen says she only wants to marry him because his name is Ernest, “the only real safe name,” according to her. Second, her frightening mother Lady Bracknell (Bree Prehn), believes that because Jack was abandoned in a train station as a baby, it is below the standards of her daughter to “marry into a cloakroom and form an alliance with a parcel.”
Algernon, on the other hand, falls in love with Cecily (Ella Bartlett) purely on Jack’s description. He goes to the country, despite Jack’s opposition to the idea, and takes on the guise of Jack’s brother Ernest in order to meet her.
“I think Algernon goes to the country in order to show Jack up by wooing Cecily . but he ends up actually liking her and wanting to be with her,” Moscinski said.
Like Gwendolen, Cecily is intent on marrying the mysterious Ernest.
“There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence,” she says in the show.
“Cecily is really filled with sugarplums and flowers,” Bartlett said. “But what she wants is to get her way. She wants to marry Jack’s wicked younger brother and not do her lessons.”
In the final act, the story is wrapped up in a perfect conclusion.
“It’s one of the great contrived endings of all times,” director James Panowski said. “All the loose endings are tied up. It’s what is called ‘deus ex machina.'”
“Earnest” has been pleasing audiences for ages. In fact, Panowski directed this very show at Forest Roberts 25 years ago.
“It’s a great, fun show,” he said. “It’s a show of language and style. Students will be greatly improved in language after doing it. It is also a great breakdown of male and female roles. Especially in college, we try to give men and women equal opportunities (to perform).”
Both audience and actors seemed to enjoy this presentation of “Earnest,” but for Filipowicz, just being in the show was part of the magic.
“The fact that we are doing ‘Earnest’ is the best part,” he said. “To be a part of the show’s legacy is incredible.
“It’s a comedy of errors,” he added. “That’s what makes it the beauty it is. It’s incredibly clever.”
Everyone can be a part of the magic, too. “The Importance of Being Earnest” runs from April 17 – 19. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. with a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday.