The most frequently performed of all Oscar Wilde’s works, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST clearly has resonated with audiences for more than a century. In fact, only after Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” journalist Mark Lawson described this piece is the most quoted play in English. First performed in 1895 in London, Wilde’s play lambasted the social conventions of late Victorian England with a satirical and uproarious pen. In fact, many consider THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST as the culmination of Wilde’s career. Most especially since he died when he was only 46 years old.
If anything, Oscar Wilde’s life was probably more dramatic than any of his plays. On the successful opening night of this piece, the Marquess of Queensberry – whose son Lord Alfred Douglas was Wilde’s lover – planned to disrupt the show by throwing rotten vegetables at the author as he took his requisite bow. Wilde was tipped off, and the nobleman was refused admission. Their feud eventually ended up in court. When Wilde’s homosexuality was revealed in open court to a scandalized Victorian public, his penultimate play closed after only 86 performances. Just 15 weeks after the play’s opening, Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor in prison. When he was released, a sick and broken man, Wilde immediately fled England to Paris, where he died destitute three years later.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST opened originally on Broadway in 1895 but closed after only 16 performances. However, when the play was opened in Australia four months later, it was an instant success. Apparently, Wilde’s exposure in England did not affect the popularity of his plays in Australia. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST has been revived multiple times and has been adapted to radio, television, film, opera, and the musical theater. Wilde is applauded for his writing genius 118 years after his death.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST flirts with Jack Worthington’s secret identity as Earnest, supposedly the wicked brother of the staid John. Which, of course, gives Jack (Hans Obma) complete license to disappear from time to time to work on “reforming” his errant sibling. Meanwhile, his friend Algernon Moncrieff (Bobby Slaski) also has a second identity as Bunberry – both men apparently chafing under the rules and regulations of their Victorian society. When Jack falls for Gwendolen Fairfax (Riegan Safe) and Algernon falls for Cecily Cardew (Megan Cochrane), Jack’s ward, things are going to become very complicated indeed – since both young ladies have a special appreciation for the name Earnest. Add to that the presence of Algernon’s and Gwendolyn’s aunt, the scary Lady Bracknell (Michael Mullen), who has very particular ideas about the proper lineage for a potential spouse.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EARNEST is a rollicking satire in which nothing is sacred. Presented in three acts, this merry and entertaining boondoggle through life in “the good old (Victorian) days” will keep you laughing. Helmed by Michael Marchak, the talented cast seem to enjoy the play as much as the audience. Joanne Lamb’s set is functional, and Michael Mullen’s costumes are a delight. The entire production team has managed to bring Victorian England to life in North Hollywood. The play is double cast, so that different audiences may see different actors in the same roles. Now for a bit of trivia: it has been suggested that “Earnest” was a code word for gay in the Gay Nineties. Of course, it is unlikely that Wilde would have known that – or would he?
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST runs through March 31, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Crown City Theatre is located at 11031 Camarillo Street, North Hollywood, CA 91602. Tickets are $20. For information and reservations, call 818-605-5685 or go online.