The Importance of Being Earnest | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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The Importance of Being Earnest, City Lit Theater Company. After one of Algernon's wisecracks, his best buddy, Jack, asks him, "Is that supposed to be clever?" To which Algernon replies, "Well, it is perfectly phrased!" And therein lies the secret to City Lit's rendering a play so frequently performed fresh and funny. The very eloquence of Oscar Wilde's satirical farce often sabotages stagings by young artists: dazzled, they stampede through its intricate harmonies. But City Lit's long experience with repartee-driven comedy (especially P.G. Wodehouse) enables director Kevin Theis and his performers to think about the text's coherence and focus on the characters' responses as well as assertions. The result is a comfortably integrated ensemble effort rather than the series of solos to which productions of this classic are prone.

Theis introduces fin de siecle elements--footlights, for example, into whose glare actors advance for their big scenes--in keeping with Wilde's mockery of the well-made play. But thankfully this distraction disappears after the first scenes. At the preview performance I attended, Mark Richard and Joseph Wycoff were in top sparring form as the fussy Jack and urbane Algernon, executing pauses and grimaces with the precise timing possible when actors actually listen to one another. Equally impressive was Martha Adrienne's Lady Bracknell, a dowager capable of halting armies with a roll of her eyes.

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