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Review: Arvada Mounts an ‘Earnest’ Gem

Calling Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance of Being Earnest hammers home the main device of this classic farce — ridiculous misrepresentation.

There’s a good reason that The Importance of Being Earnest is a constant crowd-pleaser, and therefore a popular choices for theater companies of all sizes. The comedy rotates around two men — Jack and Algernon, whose names I only mention to be perfectly clear that neither is named Earnest. Algernon is delightfully irresponsible, and Jack sickeningly in love. When Algernon learns that Jack has fabricated a brother named Earnest to protect his impressionable young ward from his weekend adventures, and Jack learns that his fiancee is quite attached to his pseudonym, both are determined to manipulate the situation to their advantage — even if it means mistaken identity, brotherly rivalry, and throwing each other under the bus without a second thought.

Cast Hits Comedy Using ‘Wilde’ Language

HE SAID:  Indeed, this is a show that one can find being produced with some regularity – and we are sure to see more of this title after the recent popular revival on Broadway. In fact, there is another production of it going on right now in the area.  But while it frequently pops up, I find rarely is it done so well. It was more refreshing than cucumber sandwiches on a hot summer day. To watch these actors handle the delicate language so splendidly was like watching an Olympic fencing match – quick and agile yet never forceful. In their hands, we are guided through a roller coaster of hilarious quips and circumstances that resonate with as much comedy today as ever (I imagine).

Importance of Being Earnest, Arvada Center, Denver, TheatreSHE SAID: It’s true that this comedy is old-fashioned, perhaps simpler, in that it is driven almost entirely by situation and language. In fact, the first act which is nearly entirely set-up for the well-crafted misunderstandings that follow, is almost entirely action-less, leaving Scott Bellot as Jack and Jake Walker as Algernon to muscle out paragraphs of rich, purposeful language. The pair are able to banter well, with words streaming out playfully. When Gwendolen and her mother, Lady Bracknell arrive, the pacing slows a bit, but there still remain plenty of comic gems that are so well-delivered they’re worth waiting for. Throughout the show, Bev Newcomb as Bracknell hits several hilarious high points, but especially in the third act, her lines are delivered at a noticeably slow pace. The rest of the cast jumps in to speed things along, so not much is lost in the long run.

Wise and Berry Master Ladylike Rivalry

HE SAID: To me the pacing slowed more due to Bracknell than Gwendolen, perhaps in part due to her properly dour disposition. I actually found the scene with Kate Berry as Gwendolen with Caitlin Wise as Cecily’s scene in the garden to be one of the highlights of the show. The back and forth escalation of platitudes and politeness clearly underpinned by growing frustration and hatred was unbearably funny. But the real shining moments in this show belong to Bellot and Walker. Their skill as performers is evident as they delicately play with the verbose language.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Arvada Center, Denver, TheatreSHE SAID : The women in this show were definitely comically on point, and I agree that Bracknell’s pace was consistent with her puckered character. It’s only natural for me to identify more with one of the female characters than the other (see my rant about Eponine vs. Cosette), and for some reason I’ve always had a preference for Cecily. For some reason I find her character more innocent and genuine, although when examining it it’s not clear why I find a woman who invents a non-existent engagement more appealing than a woman who demands an official proposal after her beloved makes his immediate intentions to propose apparent. On paper I suppose they’re head-to-head in silliness, but I still found myself having a more human reaction to Wise as the younger Cecily. Maybe her status as a ward made me more empathetic to her. Berry was hilarious as Gwendolyn, but something out her tall, thin profile and her outrageous costumes made me view her with a little more comic distance.

Design Elements Reinforce Classic Style

HE SAID:  I was completely enamored with the design not just because it was “old-fashioned” but because it was deliberately so. We all know the Arvada Center can afford to pull off wonderful design elements, so fully utilizing painted flats (even hanging curtains are painted) and seemingly antique foot-lighting is a choice and smashing one at that. Some painted sets seem like cheap afterthoughts, but these seemed very thoughtful, as did all of the design elements, and I appreciated every bit of it.

Importance of Being Earnest, Arvada Center, Denver, TheatreSHE SAID: I’m not sure that I was totally clued into that design choice — but now that you mention it, I see what you mean! I don’t think I noticed or fully appreciated it while enjoying the show. I did notice that the costumes were gorgeously detailed, and come to think of it, really stood out against the more two-dimensional scenic design. They made the characters seem ever so slightly larger than life, which is important for maintaining the suspension of disbelief in this self-proclaimed “trivial” comedy.

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The Importance of Seeing Earnest

THEY SAID: Even if you’ve seen The Importance of Being Earnest before, you won’t be able to help being absolutely delighted by the Arvada Center’s recent rendition. With a blend of classic style and modern humor, the cast triumphs in this delightful production. The cast handles the language with skill, which will make all three acts of this comedy speed by. We don’t see why even the most serious people won’t enjoy this well-done trivial comedy.

Arvada Center, Denver, Theatre, Theater, Reviews

For more information on The Importance of Being Earnest, see the wikipedia page. The Importance of Being Earnest plays through Feb 19 at the Arvada Arts Center. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.


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One thought on “Review: Arvada Mounts an ‘Earnest’ Gem

  1. A delightful rendition of this revered classic. The ability to render a modern production in a style that would likely have been consistent with the originals speaks to the effort placed upon authenticity. To pull this off and yet still carry the burden of pleasing modern audiences is a testament to the skills of the production team and the fine casting. The Arvada Center known so well for the production of great musicals is now introducing comedic straight plays and providing audiences with an evening of fun entertainment well worth the price of the ticket. Enjoy!

    Posted by M Arnold | February 2, 2012, 5:05 pm

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