Friday night’s performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Jason Silzer and presented by the Scarborough Theatre Guild, left us wondering if there was a full moon that night, or perhaps the lacklustre performance had something to do with the fact that it was Friday the 13th.
The Importance of Being Earnest tells the story of two friends who are both mistaken for a nonexistant man named Ernest by their love interests. John Worthing, one of the lead characters in the play, invented a brother named “Ernest” who lives in the city and leads a wild and rebellious life. This imaginary brother gives John an excuse to visit the city and blame all of his partying antics on his “brother”, without upsetting his relatives in the country.
While references to the “love that dared not speak its name” from the original script were often played up, especially at the beginning of the play, the subtler criticisms of the idle upper class often dared not speak their names. The delivery was often poorly paced, with actors often barreling through many of the puns and witticisms without allowing lines to breathe when needed.
The character of Algernon Moncrief, who is a bit of a buffoon and made us wonder how on earth he could afford such a lovely abode, was played by Kenneth Forbes. He so enthusiastically stepped into his role that in the opening scene, where he was eating his way through a tray of hors d’oeuvres, he could not refrain from spitting out his lines along with his food.
Dante Labriola as John Worthing has a natural charisma that is perfect for a character who uses a fake identity to engage in debauchery when he’s not at home in the countryside.
Lindsay Woodford was well-cast as Gwendolyn, the love interest of Ernest…or should I say John? Or is it Jack? Lindsay’s facial expressions were fantastic. The period costumes so suited her that you could almost believe she stepped out of an episode of Road to Avonlea.
The standout performance came from Catherine Lenihan as Lady Bracknell, Gwendolyn’s mother. She did a convincing job as the older, proper society woman who is very conservative and set in her ways, not wanting her daughter to marry below her station and focused only on superficial indicators of class.
Lisa Craig plays Cecily, John’s young ward who lives in the country and has long heard tales of Ernest and his antics in the city, causing her to pine for him and write about him endlessly in her journal. She was suitably precocious and fits the role well.
Uju Umenyi plays Miss. Prism, Cecily’s instructor who is constantly telling her to stop writing in her journal and focus on her studies.
It has been a year and a half since we last saw Thomas O’Neill perform opposite Clive Lacey as Orgon in David Nicholson’s adaptation of Moliere’s “Tartuffe”. What a year it has been! He was grossly underused in East Side Players’ production of Norm Foster’s “Office Hours”, then he held multiple roles in Chris Coculuzzi’s “Quiet Courage”, a gut-wrenching drama about the 1917 Halifax Explosion and in probably his most important “community theatre” role to date, starred in Alice Abracen’s debut play, “Omission” at the Alumnae Theatre. It was great to see him again and it’s such a shame this play couldn’t have afforded him a larger role.
The set design was appropriate for a Victorian-era parlor drama. All the décor matched the period well. The wardrobe was Victorian in nature, with makes pretty good sense. I don’t know what you would really expect for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Upper class late Victorian works well. Why mess with a winning formula?
Overall, this take on the 1895 Oscar Wilde classic was unremarkable and was a very straight-forward reading of a script that was considered refreshingly subversive when it first debuted.
Catch The Importance of Being Earnest at the Scarborough Village Theatre at 3600 Kingston Road on July 19th and 20th at 8 pm, or the final matinee show on July 21st at 2 pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here.