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The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Ed Reggi
Insight Theatre Company
July 12, 2018

Will Bonfiglio, Julia Crump, Gwen Wotawa, Pete Winfrey
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic play that has been performed and taught in school literature classes for many years. Despite this ubiquity, though, I had never seen the play live before–I had only seen filmed versions. Now, Insight Theatre Company has given me and theatregoers in St. Louis the opportunity to see this legendary example of writer Oscar Wilde’s wit and characterization. It’s a great script, and Insight has brought it to the stage at the Grandel Theatre with an excellent cast and well-paced staging.

This is a prime example of an English “Drawing Room Comedy”, and a particularly madcap one at that, with loads of witty banter and plot twists involving mistaken identity, long-held family secrets, romantic complications, and more, all taking place in the world of upper-class Victorian English society. The story centers on two young friends, bachelors Algernon “Algie” Moncrieff (Will Bonfiglio) and John “Jack” Worthing (Pete Winfey), and on the significance of the name “Ernest”, which is how Jack has been identifying himself to Algie until circumstances force him to admit that he’s been posing as his own imaginary younger brother as an excuse for his many pleasure-seeking jaunts to London from his country estate. When Jack tells Algie about his life at the “Manor House”, and especially of his young ward Cecily Cardew (Julia Crump), Algie gets an idea that eventually stirs up even more trouble that eventually involves everyone closest to both men, including Cecily’s governess Miss Prism (Ruth Ezell), clergyman Dr Chasuble (Steve Springmeyer), and the object of Jack’s affection, Algie’s cousin Gwendolyn Fairfax (Gwen Wotawa), who is the daughter of the well-connected Lady Bracknell (Tom Murray). The situations all resolve in a hilarious way, relying largely on sharp satirical comedy and Wilde’s sharp, witty dialogue.

This is a funny play to read, but it’s even funnier on stage, brought to life in vibrant, face-paced style by director Ed Reggi and a wonderful, ideal cast. Bonfiglio, as the mischievous Algie, and Winfrey, as the somewhat bewildered Jack are the core of this production. Their banter is a highlight of the show. There are also delightful performances from Wotawa and Crump as the sometimes friendly, sometimes combative Gwendolyn and Cecily. Both performers have excellent chemistry with their respective love interests, as well, and Wotawa especially pronounces Wilde’s clever dialogue with a sense of polished delight. Murray is also a treasure as the imperious Lady Bracknell. Ezell as the secretive, protective Miss Prism and Springmeyer as the loyal Dr Chasuble are also strong, as is Spencer Kruse in a dual role as two different butlers. The cast here is cohesive and energetic, doing justice to Wilde’s script. As clever as the dialgoue is, this is somewhat of a talky play, so it requires excellent timing and presence–and this cast delivers that with verve and deliciously droll style.

The Victorian atmosphere of the production is well-maintained here, with excellent costumes by Laura Hanson and a well-appointed set by Sucas Shryock. Tony Anselmo’s lighting and James Blanton’s sound design also lend to the overall whimsical mood of the show. Kudos also to dialect consultant Jeff Cummings and the entire cast for the constistent, appropriately posh English accents.

This is a show that’s been performed countless times throughout the world for over 100 years, and it still holds up in terms of story, comedy, and the oh-so-witty dialogue. The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic for good reason, and Insight’s production certainly does it justice. It fits well in the newly restored Grandel Theatre. There’s stil time to catch it. I highly recommend it!

Cast of The Importance of Being Earnest
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company is presenting The Importance of Being Earnest at the Grandel Theatre until July 22, 2018.

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