This is a guest review by Melinda Hawker and Lindsay Marriott
Upon being asked to review the Importance of Being Earnest, I was hesitant. I have seen this show done more times than maybe only The Scarlet Pimpernel or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I am TIRED of this show. I am tired of odd interpretations and the latest “new” way of presenting material that, to me, has seen its time. However, my fellow reviewer shared quite a different view… her experience with this show has held more positive memories and is less exhausted than my own. Armed with opinions that ranged from the best to the worst, we each took our seats, not knowing what to expect.
The Little Brown Theater in Springville is small. There was seating for maybe 50… less than 100. The 3-sided stage was simply adorned with some weathered theater columns and a bit of drapery. The fold-up chairs provided little elegance, but were each supplied with a comfy cushion which we found welcoming. We were warmly greeted by the enthusiastic box office reps who took us right to our seats, and despite wending our way past actors, and changing areas, we were able to locate the restrooms behind the scenes.
Putting all this aside, we threw ourselves into Wilde’s narrative of two of the silliest couples ever to attempt an engagement, and remember this theater is in Utah County. The Importance of Being Earnest begins in the city with Algernon, the socialite who has an insatiable appetite, and his love-lorn best friend “Earnest”. The two friends are at odds because while Algernon is a perpetual bachelor, Earnest is on the brink of proposing to his heart’s delight, Gwendolyn, who also happens to be Algernon’s cousin. As we come to find out, Earnest is leading a double life and is more accurately known as Jack Worthing when he is at his home in the country. When Jack is away from his home in the country, his excuse is that he is visiting his brother Earnest, whom he then supposes to be while in the city. Incidentally, Jack’s country home also houses his ward Cecily Cardew, who is pining away for Jack’s wayward brother, Earnest. Confused yet? The fun of this show is watching the confusion these characters go through discovering who is who, and where, and how they can possibly live happily ever after in 2 hours time.
The key relationship of this show emerged quickly with the easy going, believable camaraderie between Algernon (Eric Ramaekers) and Jack (Andrew Whittaker). While it is easy to get bogged down in the pages of flowery words penned by Oscar Wilde, these two actors dissolved their less than polished surroundings and difficult dialogue and accomplished what all actors set out to do. They created a world that drew in the audience, was believable, and was completely interdependent from the fluff that a lot of theaters hide behind. As the whip cream on top of this surprising dessert, Lindsay Fairbanks bubbled onto the scene as a refreshingly believable Cecily. Her chemistry with Algernon was another unexpected treat, endearing, genuine, and delightful. Mix in fellow cast members that included an impeccably dressed Gwendolyn (Alyssa Jeanne Christensen), a bone-dry humored butler (played perfectly by Kenneth Norris), and a sharp-tongued Lady Bracknell (Sherri Webb), and we were instantly transported out of a tiny theater in Springville to the buzzing life of 1895 England.
The size of The Little Brown Theater has positives and negatives. Our up front and personal seating made becoming a part of this show effortless. From the smallest nuances of the characters, to spotting the tiniest of details in some of the beautiful costuming –nothing could be hidden from the audience and nothing was lost. The skilled direction of Dana Anquoe turned potentially awkward scene-changes into a seamless dance that were not disruptive to the flow of the show. However, in the same vein, that tenuous world that this cast had worked so hard to transport us to quickly lost a bit of believability when cast members were spotted sitting amongst the audience when they were off-stage.
By the end of the show, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing and genuinely interested in a story that I had deemed “tired” only a few short hours beforehand. It restored my faith in small theaters that have a committed crew and devoted actors who love what they do. It reminded me why I love doing theater and seeing theater done in a wide range of spaces and professional levels. They set out to tell a story and entertain, and we as an audience were not disappointed.
If you go, The Importance of Being Earnest will run from March 2nd to March 12th (M, Th, Fri, Sat), at The Little Brown Theater in Springville (248 S. Main St). Doors open at 7:00pm, show begins at 7:30pm.