Earnest portrayal of Oscar Wilde farce

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Oscar Wilde

“The Importance of Being Earnest,” the lovable and timeless farce by that consummate wit, Oscar Wilde, is eminently entertaining, with clever, quotable lines, eccentric characters and a riotously ridiculous plot. The current production, playing at the Ahmanson Theater, exhibits these qualities in offering an acceptable, but not outstanding, revival.

The credentials are all there. The actors are members of the Theatre Royal Bath and the director is the celebrated Sir Peter Hall. The staging is excellent; yet there is a certain sparkle missing.

Part of the problem lies in miscasting two of the principals. The mandatory name actress is Lynn Redgrave who has had a long run in theater. She plays the redoubtable curmudgeon, Lady Bracknell, whose presence and voice are supposed to command instant fear and obedience. Redgrave is too young looking, too good-looking and too flighty to scare anyone. She is pleasant to watch but she lacks the necessary iciness.

In the important role of Jack Worthy, James Waterston is much too starchy. It is hard to think he could come up with an imaginary friend who allows him opportunities for mischief. Fortunately, the second bachelor in the play, Algernon Moncrieff, is played by Robert Petkoff, who exhibits the right degree of playfulness.

The plot revolves around the love affairs of Jack and Algy with two silly young girls, well played by Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew, and Bianca Amato as Gwendolyn Fairfax. In the improbable plot, they both insist they can only marry a man named Earnest.

Laughs there are, especially in the performances of Miriam Margolyes as Miss Prism, and Terence Rigby as Reverend Canon Chasuble. These two are scene stealers in this tale that mocks the upper classes. Naturally, there is a butler, Lane, properly stiff in the person of James A. Stephens.

The sets and costumes cannot be faulted. Kevin Rigdon and Trish Rigdon, the production team, have created a charming London flat, a pretty garden room in the country and a lovely morning room. The romantic costumes are very 1890.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “I can resist everything except temptation.” It is hard to resist any of his plays, despite critical quibbles.