Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lakewood Playhouse’s The Importance of Being Earnest

The News Tribune, June 21, 2012

The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde’s comic skewering of the British aristocracy The Importance of Being Earnest has not lost a whit of its charm in 118 years. Wilde’s wit and sarcasm is ageless, and Lakewood Playhouse’s staging of this comic classic is truly delightful. Marilyn Bennett’s direction is excellent, and the entire cast is loveable.
Starring Bryan K. Bender as the oh-so-earnest John Worthing, Andrew Kittrell as the fey and jaded Algernon Moncrieff, Syra Beth Puett as the imperious Lady Bracknell, Deya Ozburn as the highbrow beauty Gwendolen Fairfax, and Cassie Jo Fastabend as the down-to-earth if insanely silly country maiden Cecily Cardew, this version of “Earnest” is masterfully cast. 

Cassie Jo Fastabendas Cecily and Andrew Kittrell as Algernon
The play is a silly but highly intelligent comedy of manners filled with witty barbs. Worthing, who pretends to be Jack in the country and Earnest in the city, is in love with Gwendolen, and she is in love with him; but primarily because his name is Earnest. She says she could not bear the thought of being married to a man named Jack or John. His young ward, Cecily, is also in love with the name Earnest, and Algernon courts her by pretending to be Jack’s wicked brother, Earnest. 

Puett nails the personification of the stuffy Lady Bracknell with spot-on accent and diction (credit her extensive acting experience and excellent dialect coaching from Aaron J. Schmookler, who plays the part of the Rev. Cannon Chausuble). 

Ozburn, a South Sound favorite for her intense performances in such roles as that of Martha in The Children’s Hour at LPH and her devastating portrayal of the student Carol in Theater Artists Olympia’s production of David Mamet’s Oleanna, proves here that she has a masterful touch for comedy with impeccable timing and super-fast changes of attitude.

Algernon with Cecily  and Gwendolen (Deya Ozburn)
Bender seems to have been born to play the role of John Worthing. He portrays John with the dignity and stuffiness suitable to his class and upbringing, but his underlying sincerity and insecurity shines through.

Fastabend, a Theater Arts and English major at University of Puget Sound plays Cecily as loveable and flighty and is quite enjoyable to watch.

Kitrell, a recent UPS graduate in his first out-of-school performance creates an outrageously pretentious Algernon with confidence.

Performing in the round is nearly always a challenge because actors necessarily have their backs to the audience during much of the action, yet in this performance Bennett’s blocking of the action is such that it is never a problem and intimacy with the audience is achieved. There are even a number of snide asides to the audience that are delightful.

Costume designer Alex Lewington has done a masterful job with the period costumes, most notably with Algernon’s ridiculously ostentatious outfits and the dresses worn by Lady Bracknell, Cecily and Gwendolen. Her color choices for the women beautifully match their personalities and station in life – virginal and delicate for the country maiden and deep, rich colors for Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell, and they nicely complement the actors’ hair color and skin tones.

The house was almost sold out opening night, so I would urge readers to purchase advance tickets.

Photos by Dean Lapin

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 14
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $18-$24
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

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