A piano plays softly in the background as the lights dim in the theatre. An eclectic collection of patterned rugs and leather, animal printed chairs sit on the stage as a butler mills about arranging trays of food.
We’re placed in London in the 1890s, where themes of marriage and money ring high in this portrayal of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, presented by Cleveland State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” opened in The Outcalt Theatre of Playhouse Square on Feb. 21 and will continue through March 3.
With a cast of nine characters and only two locations in the entire play, “Earnest” catches the attention of the audience with strong verbal dialogue, full of wit and sarcasm.
Act 1 is set in the flat of Algernon Moncrieff, a somewhat selfish but brilliant bachelor portrayed by senior theatre major Steven Livingston. He can be viewed as a hero of the story, second to the main protagonist John Worthing, who is portrayed by senior theatre major Matthew Logan.
The character of John Worthing is a bit paradoxical. Giving credit where it is due, Logan not only portrays John Worthing but also Ernest Worthing, his notorious, younger brother who lives an aristocratic life away from his older brother, Jack.
Without giving too much away, the characters of Ernest and Jack are one and the same. Jack creates a younger brother by the name of Ernest, which gives him an excuse and alibi for when he travels to London, acting as Ernest.
This is how our story begins, with Ernest visiting his best friend Algernon and explaining that he wants to propose to his friend’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax, who is portrayed by junior theatre major Brooke Myers. He gets the chance to propose, to the delight of himself and Gwendolen, but to the dismay of Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell.
Before long, Ernest reveals to his friend his secret identity, while learning that Algernon has a secret alibi of his own for when he leaves the city. This soon brings us into Act 2, set in the garden at the Manor House in the countryside of Woolton, which is home to Jack, his ward Cecily Cardew and Cecily’s governess, Miss Prism.
While Jack is still in London, Algernon travels to Woolton, pretending to be the imaginary character of Jack’s younger brother with the goal of meeting sweet and sassy Cecily, portrayed by Elizabeth Samsa.
Cecily, excited to meet this mysterious uncle of hers, soon reveals that she has developed a deep love for Ernest through the stories that Jack has told her. Algernon continues with this charade and becomes friendly with Cecily.
Unbeknownst to him, Jack returns to the manor with the intention of telling his family that his brother Ernest had died, in order to put an end to his years-long charade. However, this proves impossible with Algernon at his home, so he decides to play along.
The play reaches an interesting obstacle when Gwendolen arrives at the manor unexpectedly to pay Ernest a visit. Instead of finding her new fiancé in the garden, she comes across Cecily, who just minutes before had become engaged to her own version of Ernest Worthing.
Both ladies come to realize that they are supposedly engaged to the same man, much to their disbelief. A competition of sorts begins to arise for who is more fit to be the wife. Soon enough, both Algernon and Jack come into the scene and have a lot of explaining to do.
The most delightful part of the entire play was the friendly but brotherly rapport between Algernon and Jack. The audience could tell that Livingston and Logan became one with their characters and made the fun and playful relationship as real as possible. With being quick to defend the other, chasing each other for the last muffin in the tin and the occasional friendly insult, this is easy to believe.
The rest of Act 2 is delightful to watch as secrets are revealed and more characters come into play. The banter and silliness on stage seem real and tangible, easily felt in the audience.
Full of hypocrisy in the best way, creative and hilarious wit and the eventual deeper revelations of characters, the audience leaves the theatre with one thought. It’s always important to be earnest.
Originally published on The Cauldron.