Oscar Wilde's famous 1890s comedy "The Importance of Being Earnest" involves mistaken identity between two upper class English gentlemen in the Victorian era, who take on false identities with the first name of Ernest.
Keegan Theatre is giving it a production that concentrates on the frivolous fun in Wilde's witty script. The production is playing at Arlington's Theatre on the Run just north of Shirlington on South Four Mile Run through July 7.
Mike Innocenti plays an English gentleman who lives in London while Christopher Dinolfo plays one who lives in the country but comes into the city for a fling from time to time. To avoid falling into disrepute, the country gentleman pretends to be his own brother Ernest while pursuing pleasures that might be frowned upon by the likes of Lady Bracknell, mother of the girl he'd really like to marry. His intended thinks his name is Ernest and that is fine with her because she's "always wanted to marry a man named Ernest."
The city gentleman has eyes for his friend's ward in the
country. She, too, always wanted to marry a man named Ernest and, so, confusion reigns.
Only in the mind of Oscar Wilde could this lead not only to a double-christening, as grown men try to change their given names to please their intended mates, but to the revelation of a case of unintended child abandonment in a garment bag at a train depot and assumed identities.
While Innocenti and Dinolfo deliver the energy their parts require, the real touch of upper class British stuffiness is contributed in the marvelously funny performance of Barbara Klein as Lady Bracknell. She swoops into her scenes with a flourish, stirs things up with astonishing vigor and delivers a number of extremely funny lines with an energy that gives new meaning to the term "punch line."
The girls the "Ernests" woo are played with a fine sense of refinement and charm that would qualify each for debutante of the season honors. Erin Buchanan as Lady Bracknell's daughter is at her best when teamed with Suzanne Edgar, who is both lovely and charming as the ward one of the gentlemen wants to marry and the other wants to protect.
A sub-plot that finally delivers the dilemma-resolving twist of identity involves Rosemary Regan as a prim Miss Prizm, the governess in the country household, and John F. Degen as the village vicar.
THE PRODUCTION IS by the New Island Project of the Keegan Theatre, an Arlington professional theater company with strong Irish roots that performs both in Virginia and in Washington. Under the leadership of Keegan co-founder Eric Lucas and his wife, actress Kerry Waters Lucas, the project was established to stage Irish plays in productions they describe as "stripped to their foundation" because they feel this will allow "vivid characterizations to emerge."
Theatre on the Run will host their productions this season and it is a venue well-suited to "stripped down" productions. It is an 80-seat black box of a room with the seats on risers and a playing space with no fly space above or, for that matter, much wing space to the sides. As such, it challenges designers to come up with visually distinctive sets.
The Lucases tackle this challenge directly, designing the sets for this production themselves. A central archway serves as the doorway to the townhouse drawing room in one scene and the fence gate for the garden in another. Moving small benches, wheeled tables and potted plants about allows quick changes of location and a painted floor with a peacock pattern gives a colorful period feel to the image.
Bill Pucilowsky provides period costumes. His gowns for the ladies are particularly good.
Brad Hathaway reviews music and theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.