"The Importance of Being Earnest" - by Oscar Wilde - Majestic Theater (West Springfield, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: Rylan Morsbach as "Jack Worthing" and Peter Evangelista as "Algernon Moncrieff" in a scene from "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" by Oscar Wilde now playing at the Majestic Theater in West SpringfieldMA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Kait Rankins)

 

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple."  

                                                                                                    - ("Algernon") / Oscar Wilde

The Majestic Theater 

Presents Oscar Wilde's 

"THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST"

Written by Oscar Wilde 

Directed by Rand Foerster

Producing Director Danny Eaton 

Cast Includes: Rylan Morsbach* as "Jack Worthing," Alexandra O’Halloran* as "Gwendolyn Fairfax," Lisa Abend* as "Lady Bracknell," Peter Evangelista* as "Algernon Moncrieff," Caelie Scott Flanagan as "Cecily Cardew," Peter J. Hicks as "Reverend Chasuble," Krista Lucas** as "Miss Prism," Tom Dahl as "Lane/Merriman." Understudies: Jack Grigoli*, Myka Plunkett, Stephanie Craven. 

Additional Creative Team:

Associate Producing Director - Sue Dziura*;  Production Stage Manager - Stephen Petit*; Costume Designer - Dawn McKay; Lighting Designer - Daniel D. Rist; Scenic Charge Artist - Braith P. Dicker; Scenic Carpenter - David Ellis; Wardrobe Mistress - Christine Thompson; COVID Compliance Officer - Carol Rucinski; Photographer - Rick Teller; Associate Production Manager - Aurora Ferraro; Production Assistant - Miguel Perez; Set Designer - Michael Lounsbery   

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States

**Actors’ Equity Association Member Candidate 

THE MAJESTIC THEATER, 131 Elm Street, West Springfield, MA 01089 

Performances:

January 4, 2024 through February 11, 2024 

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times) 

Tickets can be purchased at the box office or by phone at # 413-747-7797.  

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The Majestic Theater in West Springfield, MA. kicks off 2024 with a wonderfully staged production of a superb play that has withstood the test of time, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.  

There is a false impression by many regarding the show that, because it was written before the 20th Century by the renowned Oscar Wilde, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST must be a stale, stuffy, overtly gloomy masterpiece. 

This show is many things but "stale," “stuffy” and “overtly gloomy” are not among them, and this comedy still has many “nuanced” moments that maintain a certain relevance today.

The play forces us to look at high societal nonsense and pretentiousness, shining a light on the shallowness of human behavior in a very simplistic manner. 

Yet, many people seem to forget that, above all else, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is still one HELL of a funny show. 

Aptly subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” Wilde’s story is brilliantly constructed farce. These are silly people in an absurd situation and how the play resolves itself is both head scratching and joyous at the same time, which is part of its overall charm.  

It is a fine piece of theatre which has well withstood the test of time and now is wonderfully presented by the cast and creative team at the Majestic Theater

The history behind the play almost eclipses the show itself. 

Debuting in 1895 in London and running for a respectable 86 performances, the show’s themes both satirize and shed a negative light on marriage and Victorian values, which some at the time (who knew of Wilde’s homosexuality) found notorious and objectionable. 

So, while THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST was a hit, it also ended Wilde's career, also causing him to be disgraced, (presumably outed) and imprisoned for two years under charges of “gross indecency.” 

After being released from prison, Wilde went to Paris in exile, where he officially published the play but published nothing more. 

Fortunately, history has been kind to the legacy of Oscar Wilde, his collective works and especially his "IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. 

(Photo: Alexandra O’Halloran as "Gwendolyn" hovers over Rylan Morsbach as "Jack" proposing (something) on bended knee in a scene from "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" by Oscar Wilde now playing at the Majestic Theater in West SpringfieldMA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Kait Rankins)

As to the story itself: It is the late 1800s in England

Through a plethora of plot twists and turns, two seemingly likeable men openly admit to one another of their intentions to manipulate, lie to and deceive two women, attempting to win their affections and their hands in marriage. 

Again, quite shallow behavior all around. However, the women come off looking nearly just as shallow and pretentious. 

Apropos Wilde did not entitle this play as THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING HONEST AND MORAL - most assuredly because honesty and morality take quite the beating in this three act farce, even for some whose moral compass at least tries to point north.

One note: The play was structured as a three act and is presented at the Majestic Theater as three acts with two intermissions. The first act is presented with only a few set pieces on stage in front of a beautiful black drop curtain. 

During intermission, while one may want to partake in refreshments in the adjoining café, you might just miss out on some fascinating set redressing as the second and third acts change up to feature incredibly gorgeous sets. 

The above-mentioned so-called “men of breeding” fall in love with two women who will ONLY marry a man if he is “of good breeding” and named EARNEST (I didn’t make up that last rule – Oscar Wilde did. So, just go along with the premise for now and we’ll all get along great). 

(Photo: Peter Evangelista as "Algernon" woos Caelie Scott Flanagan as "Cecily" in a scene from "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" by Oscar Wilde now playing at the Majestic Theater in West SpringfieldMA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Kait Rankins)

Jack (Rylan Morsbach) loves Gwendolyn (Alexandra O’Halloran) who only knows Jack as EARNEST. The reasons for this deception become clear(-ish) as the story progresses.

Gwendolyn's first cousin, Algernon (Peter Evangelista), meets and instantly falls in love with young Cecily (Caelie Scott Flanagan), Jack’s ward. However, Cecily only knows Jack as "Jack" and believes Algernon to be Jack's disreputable brother named (you guessed it) EARNEST. 

The two couples seek to marry but run into a multitude of obstacles, the biggest one being the truth about someone (or more than one person) named EARNEST.

Morsbach as Jack is a commanding presence as he tries to at least appear as the moral compass of the story. 

However, with interference from Algernon and others, Jack's own deceptions and misrepresentations catch up with him, landing Jack in numerous embarrassing situations.

In an wonderfully overt flamboyant performance as Algernon, Peter Evangelista seems to be channeling Wilde himself (if Wilde were straight) or at least a presumptive impression of the late author. 

Both actors are a delight to watch, as are Alexandra O’Halloran and Caelie Scott Flanagan as their respective love interests. 

There is a hilariously bizarre Act Two exchange between Gwendolyn and Cecily which is a highlight of the show. (Fans of Neil Simon "Odd Couple" might also recognize those names as the first names of the two "Pigeon Sisters" from the iconic comedy. Simon also used the name "Oscar" as in Oscar Wilde for his main character - a not-so-subtle nod from one iconic playwright to another).

(Photo: Peter Evangelista as "Algernon" pours Lisa Abend as "Lady Bracknell" a cup of tea in a scene from "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" by Oscar Wilde now playing at the Majestic Theater in West SpringfieldMA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Kait Rankins)

While you may find all the pompous, self-important behavior in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST  repugnant, you'll also soon find these characters all absolutely charming and funny to watch. Even more - you'll find yourselves surprised that you actually care about what happens to each of them by the end.

As indicated, the overall show has a timeless quality but, most assuredly, it also exists as a product of its time. A number of Wilde's statements made through his characters reflect attitudes of a bygone era that absolutely should remain "gone bye-bye."

All the cast performances are solid throughout, especially by Lisa Abend who appears as the wonderfully over the top (way over the top) Lady Bracknell, who disapproves of everyone and everything should they not pass her overbearing "checklist" scrutiny to her satisfaction.

Rounding out the cast, additional notable performances include Tom Dahl in a dual role as man servants "Lane" and "Merriman," Krista Lucas as Cecily's prim and proper tutor, "Miss Prism," who harbors a dark secret, and Peter J. Hicks as the good "Reverend Chasuble" who is charged with christening a couple of adults with the name (you guessed it) EARNEST.  

Through the preposterous events, these characters offer their own perspectives and insights on love, marriage, truth, society and, above all else, integrity (or lack thereof).  

(Photo: Rylan Morsbach as "Jack" and Peter Evangelista as "Algernon" in a scene from "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" by Oscar Wilde now playing at the Majestic Theater in West SpringfieldMA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Kait Rankins)

Costumes are vibrant, elegant and totally appropriate for the time period with one exception: 

Jack's suitcoat for Act One (specifically during the January 5th performance) appears so oddly constructed and ill-fitting that it proves itself a distraction. However, this suitcoat is not the one pictured in any of the photos supplied. So, this might have been a last-minute replacement. 

The women's costumes were completely resplendent and glamorous with a touch of a "Downton Abbey" quality.

The use of space overall was distinctive as were the many subtle looks, gestures and other movements performed by the actors under the refined direction of Rand Foerster.

In all earnestness, it is important one sees THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST which continues in West Springfield until February 11th

Coming up next month at the Majestic will be Majestic's own producing director Danny Eaton's original, "THE LADYSLIPPER" beginning February 15th, 2024. 

For tickets and more information, contact the box office by phone at # 413-747-7797 or visit www.majestictheater.com 

Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with two intermissions

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 

@MetrmagReviews

@Theatre_Critics 

ABOUT THE SHOW

Oscar Wilde's Victorian masterpiece "THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST" is about marriage, morality, and mistaken identity sparkling with dazzling wordplay and unlikely situations. 

This "trivial comedy for serious people" features two gentlemen, Jack and Algernon, each with a carefully hidden double life that comically leads to confusion and hijinks. 

When Algernon discovers Jack has been posing as a man named Ernest to escape from his "excessively boring" life in the country, Algernon promptly travels from his London flat to Jack's country estate to pose as the fictional figure himself! 

Confusion and hilarity reign as each man meets and falls in love with a proper young lady and along the way must confront the formidable Lady Bracknell all in the name of romance and revelry. 

This delightful and scathingly clever classic will be as beautiful to look at as it is amusing, sure to delight the eyes with its period costumes and gorgeous set.   

ABOUT THE MAJESTIC THEATER

Locally-produced professional live theater since 1997. Before it was a live theater, local residents may remember THE MAJESTIC THEATER as a movie house. It has since been renovated and reimagined to bring live performances to the West Springfield area, giving local performance and technical artists the opportunity to thrive. Every season at THE MAJESTIC consists of five productions (including at least one musical) featuring local actors. In addition to the subscription season, the summer includes children's theater, concerts, plays, open mic nights, and improvisational comedy shows. Recently named the best place to see live theater in the Pioneer Valley in the Valley Advocate Readers' Poll, THE MAJESTIC THEATER continues to offer great theater thanks to the support and generosity of its 4200+ subscribers.

THE MAJESTIC THEATER

131 Elm Street

West Springfield, MA 01089 

# 413-747-7797

www.majestictheater.com