IN “THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST,” AN UNEXPECTED GUEST BRINGS JACK WORTHING’S DELIGHTFUL DOUBLE LIFE TO AN END
The Towne Players of Garner, who specialize in cornpone comedies with a down-home flavor as familiar as grits and North Carolina pork barbecue, has mounted a surprisingly strong community-theater production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, a hilarious comedy about leading a double life by Irish dramatist and wit Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The show, which plays its three final performances April 23 and 24 in Garner Historic Auditorium, also provides a showcase for crowd favorite Frances Stanley to strut her stuff as Lady Augusta Bracknell, an eminent Victorian and a veritable force of nature who holds the future happiness of her beautiful but highly impressionable daughter, Gwendolen Fairfax (played with true grit by Shelly Twigg) in her gloved hands while she decides whether Gwendolen’s latest suitor, a nobody named Jack Worthing (Stephen Johnson), is suitable.
Stanley is a delight as this dragon lady whose every whim must be obeyed, Twigg gives Gwendolen gumption enough to stand up to mommy dearest, and Johnson is a pip as both as Jack Worthing in the country and his ne’er-do-well younger brother Ernest Worthing in the City of London. Curtis Reed is amusing as Lady Bracknell’s nephew Algernon Moncrieff, who knows his best friend Jack as Ernest; and Jana Horton is sweet as Jack’s naïve young ward Cecily Cardew, whom Algernon meets on an uninvited visit to Jack’s country estate and with whom he immediately falls truly, madly, deeply in love. But there is a fly in that ointment, too, because Algernon has told Cecily that his name is Ernest and when their true Christian names are revealed, Gwendolen and Cecily reject Jack and Algernon out of hand because, they say, only the name of Ernest has the right ring to it when it comes time to exchange rings.
The comical courtship of Holmes Morrison and Ethel Webster as the stolid Rev. Canon Frederick Chasuble, D.D., and Cecily’s scatterbrained tutor Miss Letitia Prism also provides grist for playwright Oscar Wilde’s comic mill; and David Adams as Algernon’s manservant Lane and Don Howard as Jack’s butler Merriman make the most of their brief moments in the spotlight.
When Jack’s city friend Algernon unexpectedly invades his country estate, and aggressively woos his ward Cecily in the bargain, his whole double life starts to crumble. Towne Players’ artistic director Beth Honeycutt gets convincing characterizations – and acceptable British accents — from every cast member. With her fine flair for comedy, she extracts the comic nuggets in Oscar Wilde’s solid-gold script and gives them a good polish. On the Garner Historic Auditorium stage, these very nuggets of gold sound more like quips and less like aphorisms destined to brighten the pages of some book of quotations; and the Towne Players audience last Friday night loved every minute of this classic comedy of Victorian manners.
The Towne Players presents THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at 8 p.m. April 22 and 23 and 2 and 8 p.m. April 24 in Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina 27529.
TICKETS: $12 ($10 students and seniors 55+). BOX OFFICE: Tickets will be sold at the door.
by Robert W. McDowell
Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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