Love in 'Ernest' is as important as ever

February 16, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

As early as 1909, British writer Max Beerbohm said of the plot of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest": "Just this sort of thing had served as the staple for innumerable farces in the '60s and '70s and '80s -- and would still be serving so if farce had not now been practically snuffed out by musical comedy."

His words proved prescient. In the intervening years, this particular Wilde farce has been the subject of at least five different musicals with titles ranging from "Oh Ernest" to "Half in Earnest" to "Ernest in Love," the latest offering by producer/director Todd Pearthree's talented Musical Theatre Machine, in residence at the Spotlighters.

When MTM debuted last season, Pearthree amply demonstrated his ability not only to cleverly re-stage well-known, large-scale musicals to fit the cramped confines of the Spot- lighters, but also to mount productions that met an impressively high standard. With "Ernest in Love," he has chosen a more obscure, smaller-scale musical, but the standard has once again been met.

Originally a 1959 TV special, the show -- book and lyrics by Anne Croswell, music by Lee Pockriss -- is actually more of a chamber musical. In fact, it's such an ideal fit for the Spotlighters that when the cast indulges in Pearthree's refined choreography, the stage takes on the feel of a Victorian music box.

The music itself is pleasant, if often derivative of such masters of the genre as Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. However, Croswell's book earns high marks for shoehorning Wilde's complex plot into a musical, as well as retaining some of his wittiest epigrams. A favorite is: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple" -- a statement that's also the play's central theme.

The complex plot concerns two romances that are threatened by the false personae the young men have invented to allow them to lead the carefree lives of bachelors. Edward J. Peters and Jimi Kinstle are fine as the lovelorn bachelors, Jack and Algernon, but the women are the standouts in the cast.

Beth Weber is girlishly silly as Algernon's beloved Cecily; her singing takes on operatic tones at the least hint of romance. As Jack's intended, Liz Boyer's snooty Gwendolen is guaranteed to grow up to be Jack's worst nightmare, i.e., a facsimile of her mother; and Anne Helms Irons is a Hermione Gingold-inspired hoot as that matriarch.

This production is the latest proof that Pearthree's troupe is earnest, not to mention sparkling and fun. Now that the governor has graciously extended Valentine's Day through the weekend, I can hardly think of a sweeter Valentine's Week treat.


What: "Ernest in Love"

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 7 p.m. Feb. 20 and 27. Through Feb. 27

Tickets: $15 adults; $12 students and children

Call: (410) 825-2554

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.