Friday, January 31, 2014

REVIEW: Prairie -Ground's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is Nicely Presented

Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is a perennial classic. Very perennial it seems. I have seen it numerous times and recently as presented by Vancouver's Magenta Theater. It opened, once again, Thursday night at Prairie High School and I was there. 

As stated earlier: "I love the patter play and can't get enough of it. I also recently reread the work. It's fascinating. Wilde is one of my favorite writers. His work is full of double meaning and playful patter. It's also rich on social commentary. Just too much fun.

"The plot isn't essential; the play is about the dialogue [and commentary]. However, like many Shakespearean works, it is about mistaken identities. It's a humorous romp through London’s high society. Part satire, part comedy of manners, this is Wilde's most enduring and popular play [also his last].

"The consummate darling of London society, Wilde provides an inside look at the Victorian self-righteous moralism and hypocrisy. I won't tell you more because I want you to be pleasantly surprised."

Ironically Wilde, the once "darling of London," while Earnest was still on stage, was ostracized and imprisoned for his gay lifestyle. Sadly, a blow from which he never recovered.

Earnestly Enjoyable

Cast of "The Importance of Being Earnest" showing actual set and costumes.
The Prairie High School production was good. I think the work is a challenge because of the need to understand so much socially, historically and linguistically about the English. Thus, probably not the easiest material for high school students. I think the acting was fine, but I also felt that overall the production lacked punch. The pace was slow for the work (especially the second act "cat fight" where the subtle, verbal jabs from the pair of quick-witted "ladies" should have been flying).

Austin Foley chokes down
a muffin as Jack Worthing.
The principles: Austin Foley (Jack), Keiko Inouye (Gwendolen), Ashlee Waldbauer (Lady Bracknell), Casey Wardell (Cecily) and Zachary Ovall (Algernon), each had great moments and all proved to be quality actors.

Foley, with his boyish charm and seasoned acting chops, is a delightful dandy. Inouye is very funny and expressive with her face and eyes.

Wardell is lovely, spirited and, though not as experienced on stage as some of the other cast, held her own and shows great promise.

Ovall moves extremely well and embodies the cocky and confident playboy attitude of Algie quite well.

Ashlee Waldbauer as the
persnickety Lady Bracknell.
And, as always, Waldbauer (playing a role well above her actual age) nearly steals the show. Her talent, honestly, never ceases to amaze me. The cadence of her delivery, her facial expressiveness and the acting in her very voice (tonality) in this role is just above and beyond what you would expect from your average high school student. She is definitely not average and is a true professional.

Emily Anzalone (Miss Prism), Jared Lingle (Lane/Merriman) and Tristan Decker (the Reverend) also do a fine job in the smaller roles and each have their own moment to shine as well.

The lovely Casey Wardell
as Jack's young ward Cecily.
Anzalone is very expressive and emotionally convincing. Lingle plays his two butler roles with distinction and subtle humor. Decker is both comedic and oh, so much better than the last person I saw in the role (which goes to show that an actor can really make or break even a small role); he makes it. Anzalone and Decker are quite funny together as the flirting teacher and preacher pair.
Zack Ovall as the gad-
about playboy Algernon.

British accents among the cast are essentially non-existent. [And you know my feelings about that.]

Notes of Importance

The production was designed and directed by Claire Verity. The three-act play (it runs long) was written before the turn-of-the-20th-century and it's expensive and difficult to accurately stage a period piece like that. Costumes and sets came from a hodgepodge of eras, but a sincere attempt was made. To Verity's credit she kept things as simple as possible with some nice stylized theatrical touches (such as the art deco floor and the tasteful teasers).

Keiko Inouye shows a
comic flair as Gwen.
The lighting was a bit uneven across the stage and dipped at the fringes of the acting areas which were awkwardly "enhanced" with a follow spot (as, uh, needed); not really the best practice. There was a lot of down light, but not enough front light, as eyes were often shadowed.

And those muffins seemed a bit dry (muffling lines) but, generally things looked good and the play was nicely presented. Get your tickets ($10 adults, $6 seniors, $5 students) at: 

Info: Show dates are January 30, 31 and February 1, 6, 7 and 8; doors open at 6:30 p,m., show starts promptly at 7 p.m. BUY TICKETS ONLINE FOR BEST SEATS AND NO WAITING IN LINE.

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler
All photos by Michael Verity.

To read the review of Magenta's production click here.

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