“The Importance of Being Earnest” is one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous works. Over a century after it was written, it is still a very popular choice for performance because of its witty satire of polite society.
Maryville College theatre’s production of this class play did Wilde’s work justice. The play opened with the discussion of two young men, Algernon Moncrieff, played by senior Walker Harrison, and Jack “Ernest” Worthing, played by freshman Chase Condrone. Jack wishes to marry Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax, played by sophomore Sara Deatherage, for whom he has a great love. Deatherage was a delightful Gwendolen, full of the fire and pompousness that the character requires, yet she still maintained the dignity and poise required of a wellbred Victorian woman.
Condrone, although a freshman, delivered a strong performance. The emotions of Jack, during his moments of discomfort, were particularly portrayed with expertise. Condrone is evidently no stranger to the stage, despite his youth. After much bantering back and forth and the discovery of a cigarette case, Jack admits that his brother Ernest is a work of fiction.
He goes by Jack or John when in a parental role around his ward, Cecily Cardew, played by junior Caitlin Campbell, but enjoys “revelries” as Ernest while in the city. Lady Bracknell, played by executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts Robert Hutchens, interrupts the boys’ conversation with her arrival with her daughter, Gwendolen. She proceeds to interrogate Jack, refusing to allow the engagement of her daughter to him because of his dubious origins. Jack’s true family is a mystery. He was discovered in a handbag in a train station as an infant. His lack of proof of parentage is unacceptable to Lady Bracknell.
Hutchens’s stage presence is at once formidable and amusing. He dominates the scenes in which Bracknell appears. The second act opens with Cecily practicing German in the garden at Jack’s country estate with her tutor, Ms. Prism, played colorfully by seasoned actor and junior Christiane Frith. Jack arrives to announce the death of “Ernest,” planning to end his ruse and do away with his false name.
His proclamation backfires, however, because Algernon has already shown up to the household, informing all that he is named Ernest. During this time, Algernon, still calling himself Ernest, ends up falling in love and becoming engaged to Cecily. Campbell’s performance of Cecily, though at times it seemed over the top and a bit forced, clearly portrayed a delusional girl in love. After these events, it is inevitable that confusion occurs between Gwendolen and Cecily about who is truly engaged to Ernest, resulting in a verbal catfight when Gwendolen arrives at Jack’s country estate.
She was searching for the Ernest she intends to marry, while Cecily has just found herself engaged to a man named Ernest, as well. Deatherage and Campbell did a very believable and comical job with this moment, their conversation escalating from polite insults to clinging friendship in a space of minutes, as they figure out the boys’ ruse.
This then leads to a close friendship, hearkening back to Algernon’s earlier comment that “women only call each other sister when they have called each other a lot of other things first.” The girls stomp off in mutual anger as Lady Bracknell arrives on a mission to find Gwendolen, who has neglected to inform her parents of her trip. Easily a scene-stealer, Hutchens’ Bracknell is more than capable of handling the impudent youngsters, who seek behind her back to make matches that she finds absolutely unsuitable.
However, Ms. Prism arrives and unleashes a secret that changes everything for the two young couples in the final act. All of the set pieces of the show appeared to be time appropriate, as well as aesthetically pleasing. However, the furniture in the final scene of the play appeared a bit too busy and therefore was distracting from the action onstage.
The music was sometimes too loud for comfort, but the songs were well selected to fit the mood of the moment. The occasional slip of the tongue or word spoken too quickly did not detract from the flamboyant ne’erdo- well that leading actor Harrison depicted as Algernon. The three butlers, played by sophomores Daniel Noles and Daniel Chandler, and freshman Matthew Beard and the exquisitely played Dr. Chasuble by Cameron Hite, all provided memorable cameo performances, in which their comedic timing was impeccable.
With the excellence of set design and acting performances, those in attendance of MC theatre’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” were indeed given a splendid performance of Wilde’s classic work.