THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Judy Navas
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Evert. B Person Theatre
RUN: October 30 – November 9, 2014
RATING: 2 of 5 stars
November 2, 2014
Elegant and engrossing, Oscar Wilde’s witty commentary on Victorian upper class society has entertained audiences since 1895. Written at the height of his popularity, its delightful insight into the triviality of society has an appeal to this day. Sonoma State University’s production brings an exotic element to the famous play by introducing the setting as India during the Raj, when the British government formally took control of India during 1858-1947. The director, Judy Navas, was inspired by a visit to India to set Earnest in Calcutta, rather than London, giving the play a “fresh perspective” It succeeds admirably, accentuating the general silliness of the characters, while adding color and depth to scenes that would not be possible had it been set in traditional London drawing rooms.
Peter Crompton’s set design and Jenny Nguyen’s lighting are sumptuous in their Indian flair, keeping a light elegance that complements the play. Act II opens with vivid desert colors, silhouetted intricate gate designs, and graceful palms embracing an intimate fountain courtyard, perfect for the meeting of Algernon and Cecily.
In the challenging role of Jack, who must flirt, cavort, and glare stoically in rapid succession, Rusty Thompson is brilliant, combining physical comedy and verbal wit, a true joy to watch. The ladies, Cecily (Katee Drysdale) and Gwendolyn (JoAnn Amos), flit about in an array of colorful gowns with vivacious energy, although there could be more variety of expression and timing in the delivery of their lines. Miss Prism (Renee Hardin) and Dr. Chasuble (Dominic Dei Rossi) are charming, and Lady Bracknell (Cat Bish) is tolerable, but the true stars of the production were the servants. During the entirety of the play, Lane (Tristan Atkinson) and Merriman (Allan Chornak) were absolutely delightful. From fearful tip-toeing in with tea during Cecily and Gwendolyn’s encounter, to fanning Lady Bracknell as she blustered, they were comedic gems in the play, and a tribute to Judy Navas’ inventiveness. Also of note is the live sitar music provided by Peter Van Gelder during scene transitions.
While it may not be the most polished production of Earnest, the exotic setting and new perspective of the production is well worth seeing. Sonoma State University’s Earnest is cleverly staged with beautiful sets and filled with humorous moments. Setting the play during the Raj was a stroke of genius.