Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” Delights at The Old Globe

Touted accurately as “the most perfect comedy in the English language” by the Daily Telegraph, the production at San Diego’s Old Globe goes from good to great over the course of the evening. Lovers of British comedy are in for a treat.

Director Maria Aitken does a remarkable job, maintaining the lyrical cadence of the cast’s dialogue. W.H Auden once referred to the play as a “verbal opera.”

Hugh Landwehr’s scenic design is magnificent, moving from an Asian-themed flat in London to the garden and library in a country Manor House.

Christian Conn as Algernon Moncrieff and Helen Cespedes as Cecily Cardew in The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, directed by Maria Aitken, running January 27 – March 4, 2018 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

The cast is top-notch: Gwendolen Fairfax (Kate Abbruzzese) daughter of Lady Bracknell (Helen Carey), Sam Avishay (Merriman), Helen Cespedes (Cecily Cardew), Christian Conn (Algernon Moncrieff), Rodney Gardiner (Rev. Canon Chasuble), Daniel Harray (Lane, Moulton), Jane Ridley (Miss Prism), and Matt Schwader (John “Jack” Worthing). Abbruzzese spent time at the venerable Chautauqua Theater Company, and Carey is well known from her appearance in the six-time Tony Award winning production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.”

Photo by Jim Cox.

The play was first performed in London on Valentine’s Day 1895 in London. It was an immediate hit. Wilde’s gay and flamboyant lifestyle eventually pitted him against the laws of the land, and he lived his final years in jail and then in exile.

The play remains beloved as it does a great job tweaking upper crust British mores, and the witty dialogue is often self-referential.

The timelessness of the writing has been evident over the ages. The flighty Cecily keeps a diary, and interrupts her suitor’s marriage proposal with the need to memorialize each moment. What would Wilde make of today’s selfie culture?

The costume design is luxurious, kudos to Fabio Toblini. Gwendolen’s mauve dress evinces the era’s passion for the color mauve. Moncrieff’s two costumes reek of a delightfully debonair rake.

Christian Conn as Algernon Moncrieff. Photo by Jim Cox.

Kate Abbruzzese wearing mauve as The Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax. Photo by Jim Cox.

Director Aitken chose to deal with various permutations of the script by including the role of Moulton, deleting the role of a solicitor and making only passing reference to a stack of Moncrieff’s unpaid dining bills.

Watching the production, I discerned the lovely thread that runs in British comedy from Wilde to Joe (“What the Butler Saw”) Orton to Monty Python.

No matter where you sit on the Anglophile scale, The Old Globe’s sterling production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a delight.

 

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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