By James V. Ruocco
Oscar Wilde's effervescent social satire "The Importance of Being Earnest," first performed at London's St. James Theatre on February 14, 1895, offers theatergoers the playwright's acerbic and witty commentary about English society, its dictated obsession with class and position and its imperious practices regarding traditions, values and ideals. The three-act comedy also explores the moral hypocrisy of the times, its giddy flirtations, its mannered, snobbish behavior, its sexual awakenings, its preoccupation with family honor, marriage and wealth and lastly, the silliness of individuals harboring family secrets, sexual desires and thoughts of forbidden love.
That said, there's much to admire about Castle Craig Player's charming reenactment of Wilde's popular, oft-performed period play.
Lori Katherine Holm as Miss Laetitia Prism
An actress with tremendous flair, dedication and focus, Lori Katherine Holm delivers a performance that is so irresistibly fresh and well-defined, it is without doubt the best performance of the season and one that will be remembered for its engaging lift, its colorful design, its humor and its bubbly poise and spirit. That is due mainly to Holm's marvelous handle on her characterization, the dialogue itself, its frivolous interplay, its period fancies and intentions and the rollicking humor inherent in the actual script.
As Miss Laetitia Prism, envisioned by Wilde as "a woman with a past," Holm's portrayal reveals a woman anxious to shed her otherwise plain-Jane Victorian appearance, her mundane job as Cecily's tutor and governess and the ridiculous moral guidelines of the times. It's a part that's frothy, enchanting and full of surprise. And one that Holm plays splendidly without ever once missing a comic beat or level of importance. That said, her voice and mannerisms are steadfast and stuffy. Her expressions, often photographed in close up are absolutely delightful. She is such fun to watch, one easily awaits her next entrance. In Act III, Holm gets her big moment, which Wilde pens in all its mischievous and gooey glory. It is well worth the wait. So much so, you might want to hit "replay' and watch the scene again.
Ed Rosenblatt as Rev. Canon Chasuble
They don't come any better than Ed Rosenblatt and the part of Rev. Cannon Chasuble is one that the actor invests with valued duty, charm, code of conduct, personality and apt contention. Created by Wilde to mainly comment on morality and religion, the character, as envisioned by Rosenblatt, is your typical British country vicar, a man bemused by life itself, its recurring metaphors and the belief that he could succumb to lusty thoughts and desires pretty much like everyone else once he lets his guard down and lets his intentions be known.
It's a comic performance that's natural and genuine, mixed with just the right amount of silliness, allure, practicality and humor. Better yet, the actor is well matched opposite Holm to play Miss Prism's amorous suitor. Both he and Holm are a charismatic couple whose warmth and passion are projected with the honesty and allure intended by the playwright.
Lisa DeAngelis as Gwendolen Fairfax
Lisa DeAngelis is one of those instinctive actresses who finds what is essential and urgent about whatever part she is asked to perform. Acting wise, she is always at the top of her game and Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," is yet another feather in her hat.
As Gwendolen Fairfax, she delivers a stellar performance of wit, style, chat and marvelous engagement. She is funny. She is flirty. She is enchanting. She is delightful. Perfectly cast in a role that suits her obvious talents, she projects the image of Victorian womanhood, the character's ideas and ideals, her preoccupation with image and appearance and the artificiality and pretentiousness of women at that point in time. Her manner, her posture and her wonderfully timed expressions are postcard perfect as is her knowledge of the period, the playwright, the other characters and pretty much everything she says and does.
The Three-Act Comedy Plotline
Two dashing bachelors - John "Jack" Worthing and Algernon "Algy" Moncrieff - have created alter egos named "Earnest" to escape their bored, rich and tiresome lives. Moncrieff's deception continues with the creation of a man named Bunbury, a fictitious invalid friend whom he claims to visit in the country, an oft-played conceit used periodically to get him away from London and his friends.
With the arrival of society grand dame Lady Bracknell, "Jack" proposes to her daughter Gwendolen Fairfax while "Algy" finds himself smitten with the the lovely Cecily Cardew, whose governess and teacher Miss Laetitia Prism longs for contentment with Rev. Canon Chasuble, but harbors a huge secret involving a lost baby who was left in her handbag at Victoria Station's cloak room 28 years ago.
All of this makes perfect sense as played out to well-timed comic effect by the entire Castle Craig cast, thus, producing a very happy ending where three couple's fall into each other's arms following the big announcement where "being important" and "being earnest" is completely justified by the playwright.
The Green Screen Process
The use of the green screen process - filming a person in front of a solid color prior to adding visual effects and keying them into the background of one's own choosing - is smartly utilized by Martin Scott Marchitto, the digital background guru for "The Importance of Being Earnest." His choice of simple, but attention-grabbing visuals gives this Castle Craig production a beauty and luminance that complements all of the actors, the 19th century period setting and its themes and story arcs envisioned by Wilde himself.
The entire process is confidant, creative, seamless and visually exciting. The set ups and backgrounds are correct. The actors look exactly right as "The Importance of Being Earnest" places them in different settings. And digitally, nothing gets lost in the actual translation.
The Dialogue by Oscar Wilde
The plays of Oscar Wilde - "An Ideal Husband," "A Woman of No Importance," "Lady Windermere's Fan," to name a few - are marvelously peppered with dialogue that is candid, accurate, truthful, reflective and ingenious.
With "The Importance of Being Earnest," the conversations of the characters and the delicious words that spill from their mouths are wonderfully inventive, intelligent and voiced with that pungent sarcasm Wilde is famous for.
"I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like an exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone."
"If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being immensely over-educated."
"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."
"Never speak disrespectfully about society, Algernon. Only people who can't get into it do that."
At Castle Craig, the playful irony of the actual wordplay is infused with bold and brazen merriment, quotable pronouncements, timeless frivolity, sparkling observations and well-placed social agenda. There isn't an Englishman or English woman among them (this cast is 100 percent American), which, in part, explains their different choice of British accents, mannerisms and posturing, but nonetheless, they have great fun with the dialogue and Wilde's quick-paced banter and its many surprises, revealed quite engagingly during the final moments of Act III.
Direction by Ian Galligan and Oliver Kochol
"The Importance of Being Earnest," co-directed by Ian Galligan and Oliver Kochol, is one of the most ambitious productions of the theater's 2021 season. Galligan's love of theater, actors and directing makes him the ideal candidate to stage Wilde's play alongside the equally creative Kochol. As a working duo, they have cast the play well. They have paid homage to the playwright's feverish and funny glimpse of late 19th century Victorian society. They have reduced the play's original running time by 30 to 40 minutes without any form of confusion, hesitation, halts or hiccups. They clearly understand the mechanics of play production in terms of staging, character development, pacing and concept. As actors themselves, they know how to get the best performance from every cast member and create an honest and united front of character, mindset and individuality. They also come to Castle Craig with a complete understanding of Wilde's very wicked drolleries, his flashes of flutter and circumstance, his penchant for crafty witticisms and his disarming hauteur.
Working alongside Martin Scott Marchitto (digital backgrounds) and Abraham Texidor, Sr. (filming), this very talented quartet deliver a snappy online streamed production that often resembles a pop-up Victorian postcard that shines and glimmers. Each scene flows freely about. Wilde's satiric concept never once gets upstaged by the direction or stunning visuals. In terms of editing, Galligan keeps things rolling merrily along with a running time of 1 hr. and 24 minutes. And much to the delight of everyone watching, that viewpoint is reaffirmed by the frivolity of the resulting comedy at hand, its grab bag of absurdity and giddyap, its sugary spirit and stylishness and finally, the added nuance and color Galligan brings to the completed project.
Jack, Algernon, Lady Bracknell, Cecily, Lane & Merriman
As John "Jack" Worthing and Algernon "Algy" Moncreiff, the play's lovesick gentlemen suitors, Griffin Kulp and Jim Kane are dashing, reckless, funny and decidedly off center in typical Wilde fashion. They are an agreeable duo who perfectly project 19th century life in England with mad dashes of unabashed silliness. Kulp is dapper, versatile, diligent, conscientious and well aware that he is in the best company with Wilde supplying dialogue and delicious, quotable witticisms that he reenacts with heartfelt dash and glee most engagingly. The good news is that he doesn't overplay things. Instead, he is suitably sparky with a dash or two of youthful ambition and gait thrown in that lends itself nicely to the play's frivolous fun and its springy chat.
Often played by a man instead of a woman, the role of Lady Augusta Bracknell is one of Wilde's most important characters. She gets the best lines. She gets the best entrances and exits. Her upper class Victorian snobbery is ruthless, extreme and arrogant. Her opinions are wicked and calculated. But you can't help but love her. Throughout "The Importance of Being Earnest, the playwright uses her acerbic commentary to represent his own personal thoughts on privilege, position, society, money, marriage and respectability. No easy task, but Pam Amodio, as Lady Bracknell has great fun with the material, from looking down her nose at anyone who gets in her way to the recitation of attention-grabbing dialogue and one liners that prompt immediate laughter at every comic turn.
Katie Kirtland plays Cecily Cardew with charm, curiosity, wide-eyed innocence and appropriate romanticism. She captures the sweetness, poise and girlish nature of her character with a well-orchestrated naturalness that works quite splendidly. She also does justice to the play's curlicued wit and its sardonic views of young English girls who are easily infatuated with Victorian propriety, class distinction, wealth and materialism and handsome suitors with proper backgrounds, stiff, upper lip manners and bank accounts with lots of money in them. In the roles of "Jack's" servant Merriman and Algernon's butler Lane, both Oliver Kochol and Len Fredericks are very much a product of the times, delivering droll comments and perfectly orchestrated reaction shots in glorious close ups. As the play's two very different manservants, they invite laughter upon laughter and telegraph their feelings with devoted spark and calculation.
The Hats and Period Costuming
All of Oscar Wilde's plays come gift wrapped with fashionable, attractive costuming that reflects the style, position and vanity of English society, its 19th century aesthetics and its social, political and cultural standards and practices.
Surprisingly, no costume designer is listed for this particular presentation of "The Importance of Being Earnest," but the end result, approved by the show's directorial team, is both stylish and visionary.
The hats, however, have been designed by cast member Lori Katherine Holm whose fondness for all things Victorian is colorful, appropriate, inspired and one-of-a-kind vintage. Mary Dacey's wigs are styled with period perfection and complement Holm's exceptional and fashionable millinery design work beautifully.
"The Importance of Being Earnest," as staged and streamed online by the Castle Craig Players, made its official online debut April 23, 2021. The open-ended run (it is scheduled to run indefinitely) can be viewed on YouTube and on the Castle Craig Players website at castlecraig.org
Streaming, of course, is free, but donations are welcomed. To make a one-time or recurring monthly deduction, simply click on the link, pick and choose your monetary amount and pay with PayPal, a debit card or a credit card.