You have no idea how many times a fictional personae would have come in handy in my life.
Awkward social situations? Boring family get-togethers? Unfortunate work shifts? Sorry. I can’t make it. My, uh, cousin Blake needs help moving.
No, I don’t actually have a cousin Blake, but maybe if I had a little more gall I would put him to use.
This is exactly what happens in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” John Worthing, played by Phil Herbruck (sr), has a fake brother named Earnest and Algernon Moncrieff, played by Adam Fike (so), has a fake friend by the name of Bunbury. Both characters use their faux personas to get out of unpleasant or uncomfortable social situations.
The Indiana Wesleyan University Theatre Guild presented “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the Black Box theatre last weekend.
Upon entering the Black Box, I was impressed by the set design just as I have been with every show I’ve seen in the venue.
For this play, the set was “in the round,” meaning there is audience seating on all four sides of the stage. Sometimes performers’ backs are to you; sometimes they look right at you while they speak.
This made the body language of the performers infinitely more important.
For some scenes, you would hardly see the actors faces. Although you can still hear them speak, audiences are forced to listen in a different way than what they are used to in a typical set design.
The play began with the introduction of Algernon and his servant Lane, played by Gardy Darbouze (fr). Soon after, Worthing is introduced, as he and Algy share witty conversation about flirting wives, engagement, truth and Worthing’s various names being Earnest, Jack and John.
This portion of the first act was tense. Fike’s lines seemed rushed and lacked vocal variety, making the chemistry between him and Herbruck stale. Because the actors were tense, the audience was tense. There were jokes delivered within the dialogue that were hardly acknowledged by the audience because the tense actors didn’t match the comedic script.
Worthing confesses to Algy that he plans to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, Algy’s niece. Soon after, Gwendolen, played by Justine Schaefer (fr), and her mother, Lady Bracknell, played by Emily Wyse (sr), enter the stage.
Wyse and Schaefer nailed their characters perfectly. Wyse played the perfect fear-inspiring mother.
Schaefer was magnificent. Her confidence as Gwendolen was enthralling.
Worthing proposes and is “accepted” by Gwendolen. Their chemistry on stage was impeccable. Schaefer’s confidence and Herbruck’s nervous infatuation were wholly natural and believable.
Lady Bracknell intervened and shuts down plans for marriage until she knows more about Worthing. It is revealed that as a baby, Worthing was found in a handbag, causing him to not to know who his parents are or what his true identity is.
It wasn’t until a joke was made by Lady Bracknell about how Worthing was “careless” for losing both parents that the audience laughed freely. It was as if the entire Black Box relaxed with a sigh of relief.
The second act opens with Worthing’s charge, Cecily Cardew, played by Lauren Crane (so), and her governess, Miss Prism, played by Kylie Disher (so), studying German in the garden outside the Worthing country house. Both actresses give strong performances. Crane was cute and funny while Disher’s mature, scholastic demeanor made her a convincing governess.
Two more romantic relationships were introduced: one between Prism and Rev. Canon Chasuble, played by Paul Mishler (so), and the other between Cecily and Algy, who is now pretending to be Worthing’s brother, Earnest. The attraction between Cecily and Algy resulting in another engagement.
The rest of the act features catty confusion between Gwendolen and Cecily, as they both claim to be engaged to Earnest. It also consist of arguing between Worthing and Algy, who are determined to be christened under the name “Earnest” to please their respective fiancés.
You can imagine how entertaining it was to watch this play out on stage.
The way the women often kept a smiling face while scheming against each other was executed flawlessly by both Crane and Schaefer.
The lack of emotion from Fike came across as an even more ornery attitude in the argument between he and the flustered Herbruck.
However, whenever things got too tense, Braden Hunt (fr), playing the butler Merriman, offered comedic relief with his untimely entrances to the stage exclaiming, “Ahem!”
The last act was full of the making and breaking of wedding engagements. Lady Bracknell wouldn’t allow Worthing to marry her daughter. This led Worthing to not allow Algy marry Cecily, who he was in charge.
When Miss Prism arrived, Lady Bracknell began angrily questioning her about a certain infant who was lost in a handbag many years ago, leading to the shocking revelation of Worthing’s true identity.
The deception, irony and jokes of this play cannot be fully appreciated by reading a review. They create a web so intricately spun that one must see it unravel before his or her own eyes.
Showings of “The Importance of Being Earnest” continue this weekend.