Good Earnest Fun

For its latest production, The Pearl Theater Company delivers a tight and charming version of Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest.Despite a few moments of wobbling British accents and slightly off-the-mark casting, theatergoers are nonetheless sure to have a very pleasurable evening.

Set in late Victorian England, the play is a comedic farce that explores social hypocrisy amongst the upper classes. Its two leading men, Algernon (Sean McNall) and Jack (Bradford Cover), will go to any lengths to avoid social obligations that they would rather skip.

To sneak off to the city and escape his attractive 18-year-old ward Cecily (a dewy Ali Ahn), Jack pretends that he has a troubled brother named Ernest, and actually assumes the name Ernest himself while in London, even wooing a woman under his false name. Meanwhile, to escape tiresome dinners with his Aunt, Algernon is constantly visiting an ailing friend named Bunberry, a move he calls "Bunberry-ing." And as the lies and false identities compound and intermingle, they result in some very funny situations.

Wilde's most popular play The Importance of Being Earnest is full of dry and deft lines, delivered with skill and timing by both McNall (who makes a delightful dandy) and the more rooted but also talented Cover. The two men play well off of each other, and the opening scenes fly by.

When Jack/Ernest's ladylove Lady Gwendolyn Fairfax (Rachel Botchan) arrives on the scene, Jack's newly proposed engagement with her risks being stymied by the imposing and socially conscious Lady Bracknell (a less convincing Carol Schultz), unless Jack can produce proof of suitable lineage.

Botchan adds a unique dimension to Lady Fairfax, portraying an intelligence and an edge not normally attributed to her character. As a result, it is somehow less believable to hear her proclaim herself simply incapable of marrying a man whose name is not Earnest.

McNall's scenes with Ahn, as Cecily, highlight the second act, and Ahn exhibits a comfortable ease with Wilde's language. There are also some nice moments in the competitive tete-a-tete tea scene between Botchan and Ahn.

Director J.R. Sullivan guides his actors well throughout, though there are some scenes that could have benefited from less static staging, especially in the latter half of the play.

Harry Feiner's sets are especially lovely in the third act, when they are tinged with dusky pinks, and Devon Painter's costumes contribute throughout to the period effect.

Joanne Camp and TJ Edwards are charming in their respective roles as Cecily's governess, Miss Prism, and her sweet love interest, the Reverend Canon Chausable. Dominic Cuskern turns in solid work in two minor servant roles.

Overall the play is good fun, with great writing and some very charismatic cast members. It's worth a see!

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