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The Importance of Being Earnest

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Excaliber Shakespeare Company, at Hidden Stages Chicago.

The notion that classics must be staged with pomp, solemnity, reverence, elaborate costumes, and affected oration is so entrenched in the minds of American audiences that we often overlook the considerable charm of thespians attempting the great works of dramatic literature armed with little more than "two planks and a passion."

Excaliber Shakespeare Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest, presently playing at Hidden Stages, has such a charm. Director Darryl Maximilian Robinson emphasizes the more farcical aspects of the plot. The performances, played in a melange of natural accents, range from Kelvin Blunt's Chicago-style Algernon Moncrieff to Phillip Gibbs's downstate John Worthing to Doris Craig Norris's deep-south Lady Bracknell to the exquisite Myra Oiga's Filipino Cecily. The Scott Joplin incidental music (performed by Dick Hyman and James Levine) gives the action a silent-movie giddiness.

However many liberties Excaliber may take with Wilde, their very approach buttresses Wilde's mockery of a society in which "style, not sincerity, is the vital thing." And his humor remains indestructible. Though purists may be startled by a duel with evening canes, an oversize fan being used as a slapstick, and a manservant inclined to swig champagne from the bottle when the going gets tough, more liberal playgoers will likely respond to the ensemble's rough-and-ready enthusiasm.

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