Algernon and Jack are two friends living in London. Jack is in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen, and Algernon is besotted with Jack’s ward Cecily, who lives at Jack’s country home. The catch is that both women think their intended is named Ernest, because it is their favorite name and both men use it to get in the girls’ good graces. The untangling of this romantic plot involves Cecily’s tutor, the county priest and Gwendolen’s imperious aunt, Lady Bracknell.
This plot runs around in circles, and to their credit directors Mike Fynan and Emily Hill never let anything get out of hand. Their clear staging ensures the audience does not get confused. They have also obviously done extensive research on the period, even apart from the preshow social. The actors’ accents are never muddled or overdone, making the show pleasurable for the ear as well as the eye.
The show is also very impressive from a technical standpoint. The lighting and sound effects are minimal, but deployed well. The few pieces of furniture onstage do more than enough to simulate the manor houses where the show takes place.
Most impressive, however, are the costumes. They are alternately posh and frilly, and perfect for the period. This makes sense since the costumes were loaned from the TDF (Theatre Development Fund) Costume Collection. The fact that TOP went the extra mile for professional costumes shows their commitment and enriches the production.
Every player gets their chance to shine. Matt Benincasa is a wonderful lead, amusingly showing Jack’s struggle to balance propriety and love. David Schillinger is quite hilarious as Jack’s shameless foil, Algernon. Rachel Sternlicht is wonderful as the firmly tender Gwendolen, getting the love she wants on her terms. As the innocently lovely Cecily, Jane Skapek is irrepressible. Lady Bracknell gets the best lines in the show, and Alexis Jimenez utters them with delightful relish. Max Beyer is charismatic as the slightly awkward Reverend Chasuble, particularly when trying to romance Kathryn Hillman’s businesslike Miss Prism, who amusingly delights in his presence. Even the two minor butler characters have their moment, thanks to Michael Tynes’ funny delivery of their various quips.
Oscar Wilde was a genius, and The Importance of Being Earnest was his greatest work. TOP shows why in their wonderful revival, which proves that lines this funny never get old.