Written by Patrick Chavis
I wasn’t able to finish this review and send it out on time since I was out of the county and couldn’t find an adequate internet connection for a week. I would like to apologize to Vanguard University Theatre for not finishing this review on time.) -OCR
Oscar Wilde has many plays, but the Importance of Being Earnest is the most famous and oft-repeated of these plays. I’ve read and seen plenty of versions of this story, and there is no other way of putting this– The Importance of Being Earnest is challenging material. It has great comedic moments and tons of dialogue, and the performers need the confidence to say some pretty wacky stuff. Vanguard meets the material with a steampunk gender-bending version all their own. While the gender-bending hits well and brings plenty of hilarity, the steampunk ambiance is little more than an embellishment on the rest of the story.
The Importance of Being Earnest is set in Great Britain’s Victorian era. A very strict code of manners controlled everyone’s lives, and privilege was given to the ones with money and standing in society. Normally, men held the privilege and standing, so in the original version, men play the main characters Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing. In the case of this production, however, the main characters are now women, while male actors play the individuals being wooed. Having recognized these changes, let’s get down to the basic plot. The essential story is about a lie the ladies Algy Moncrieff (played by Alexis Stary) and Jackie Worthing (played by Marissa Del Gatto) spin. Since life in the Victorian Era was so rigid, Algy and Jackie decided to create alter egos they could use to do all the naughty things they usually wouldn’t be able to because of society’s expectations. All is perfect until both of their romantic interests, Gwyn Fairfax (played by Gregory Sparkling) and Cecily Cardew played by (Zachary Guevin), find out about their mischievous activities. The following is a series of comedic engagements between all parties concerned.
The set work from Paul Eggington is fantastic and adds a lot to the production and the setting. The transitions into the different set pieces are smooth and work well within the show’s context. They used gears on the wall to add the steampunk feeling to the show, and the costumes followed suit. Lady Bracknell (played by Andreas Schmidt) has the best makeup and costume, a full-body, Victorian-era corset-like costume with a back that looks like an extended cage. Lia M. Hansen’s design matches Lady Bracknell’s personality, and it’s a hilarious addition to the character, especially when Lady Bracknell tries to sit down. The fact that Andreas Schmidt is not a woman is not lost on the audience, but because of Hansen’s great work, the character becomes a real highlight in the show.
That being said, an excellent set piece and makeup can’t cover up bad performances; folks, there aren’t any in this production. Andreas Schmit’s Bracknell is hilarious, and I would say not overdone. It would be easy to take the character over the top, especially since he’s dressed in drag, but he doesn’t. He plays the character in such a great way that the jokes resonate because of how he says them and not because he’s a guy playing a female role.
Leading women Jackie Worthing (Marissa Del Gatto) and Algy Moncrieff ( Alexis Stary) were cast perfectly by director Susan K. Berkompas. Besides the actual dialogue and story, the characters feel like real friends, and we see a natural rapport that can’t be faked and comes through beautifully onstage.
The production work and acting put into this show are fantastic, and if you’re already a fan of the material, they do a great job telling the story. The added reversal of the women playing the men and vice versa is hilarious, and nothing is hamfisted because it fits so well into the narrative, which –ironically –creates a problem. With the story fitting so well into this retelling, the added steampunk vibe feels thrown in and adds nothing more to the story. Although it didn’t hurt any of the performances or the overall story, it left me a little unsatisfied, knowing that I was watching something that was not wholly necessary.
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