Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Importance of Being Ernest: A Review

Early in the Fall semester, IUP's Theater by the Grove presented a performance of Oscar Wilde's classic play The Importance of Being Ernest. The show was directed by Barb Blackledge, and the cast included Will Weimer as John Worthing, Addam Wawrzonek as Algernon Moncreif, Erica Pealstrom as Gwendolyn, Amanda Hohman as Cecily, Kayleigh Thadani as Lady Bracknell, Kait LeRoy as Miss Prism, Chris Anthony as Dr. Chausuble, Tyler McPherson as Lane, and Ashely Whitesel as Merrimen.
I thought that overall, each actor had a very strong understanding of the script and the dialogue that they were saying. The language was not all that different from the language of today, but there were some differences, and the actors managed to make the dialogue easy for the audience to understand as well. This shows that they had a good understanding to begin with. For the most part, each actor had a strong connection with their character and the other actors onstage. In particular, the proposal scene between Gwendolyn (Erica) and Jack/Ernest (Will) went very well because of how skilled the actors were at bouncing their energy off of one another. Throughout scenes in which Miss Prism and Dr. Chausuble were involved, you could always tell that there was an energy between them, even when they were not speaking to one another. All of the actors had developed very specific mannerisms that were consistent throughout the performance. Addam's Algernon, for example, had a great deal of gesticulations and ways of walking and moving about that were very specific to that character. This shows that his character was very fully developed and he was connected. Also, Chris's Chausuble had an unmistakable set of mannerisms that were very specific, very consistent, and very well thought out. They gave his character a full sense of life. Whenever Lane came onstage, he brought a whole new kind of energy with him. Will made great use of expression in his Jack; while his physical movements were not as noticeable (because his Jack was very upright and moved with purpose), his facial expressions were very helpful in conveying his characterization. I thought that the cast worked very well together as an ensemble; each actor bringing his or her own part to the whole, to make a unified piece. I could not see any one of them vying for the spotlight. The show was a great example of an ensemble piece.
The play itself is of course a classic, and a time tested part of the theatrical canon. This is due to the skilled writing of Oscar Wilde. The dialogue is quick and witty, often very funny. The characters all seem to have very distinct and well developed personalities, while at the same time poke fun at very stereotyped characters. The content of the play remains interesting because it is a commentary on the frivolity of high society and class- subjects that are still relevant and often satired today.
I thought that the director, Barb Blackledge, did a fabulous job of taking this classic piece of theatre and making it her own while remaining loyal to the original concept. She chose to set in in the 1920s instead of the original 1880s. This unique and interesting vision was evident throughout the play; the set was 20s art deco, the costumes were indicative of the time, as was the music. For scene changes, jazz music played and actors danced on and off with set pieces. It all lent to a very jazzy, fun, 1920s feel, which fit the light and fun mood of the play. There was a moment in the beginning of the second act that I felt was especially interesting. She had the actors physically "rewind" and replay the last few minutes of the end of the first act, and then continue on. This was due to the fact that she decided to cut Act II in half and only have one intermission instead of the original two. I thought that her choice to "rewind" and replay was an interesting and fun one. It brought the audience back into the world of the play by reminding us what we had just seen, and then moving on. I thought it was very creative and fit in well with the mood.
The light design was very well done and quite appropriate. The actors appeared to be well lit, and the scenes outside in the garden were lit as though it were daytime. I did not feel distracted by the lights at all, which is an important feature of a good light design. The sound design was also done quite tastefully. The music all fit well to the time period and the mood of the play. In one particularly impressive sound effect, they made it sound as though Jack was running up the stairs and into a room over the heads of the audience. The costume designer also did an excellent job. All of the costumes were period, and each gave a little clue to the personality of the character. For instance, Algy first appeared in a purple suit, a clue to his flamboyant and eccentric personality.
Overall, my experience with this performance was a very positive one. Tickets cost $8 for students and $14 for adults. Personally, I thought this performance was well worth the cost of a ticket. I thought that the quality of the actors and the design elements was that of a very high end college production, which is definitely what The Importance of Being Ernest was.

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