Witty Wilde in `Earnest'

Farce: Timeless English comedy finds receptive audiences more than a century later.

May 02, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On weekends through May 11, Bowie Community Theatre is offering what is often called one of the funniest plays in the English language, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

With witticisms buried inside the dialogue-heavy play, Wilde's masterpiece is challenging. Still, the opening night audience seemed to enjoy it.

Since its London debut in 1895, Wilde's last play has been constantly revived. A 1993 version starring Maggie Smith was a triumph in London, as was a New York revival directed by Tony Walton in 1996.

Continuously increasing the play's renown, the revivals challenge actors and audiences to discover new facets of brilliance hidden within familiar material.

In this farcical work, friends Algernon and Jack create new lives to add excitement and confuse everyone.

They invent Ernest, a black-sheep brother for Jack, and an invalid friend for Algernon named Bunbury, whom they use as an excuse to avoid social functions.

Bunbury continually hovers near death, providing Algernon a convenient escape from boredom by allowing him to go wherever he pleases.

Jack and Algernon take turns pretending to be Ernest.

Bowie's production is well served by its state-of-the-art theater. With high ceilings that allow the crew to drop sets into place, fine lighting and sound facilities, Bowie's theatre can accommodate any play, including this "Earnest."

The sets instantly provide a turn-of-century English home for the actors whose authentic period costumes complete the illusion.

Director Frank B. Moorman has chosen skilled actors to clarify the plot's many complexities and confusing relationships. Moorman also manages to move the action at a comfortable pace.

As Algernon, Richard Atha-Nicholls is generally on target, conveying his character's obsession to conceal his motives and desires. But Nicholls' performance is often crippled by his determined maintenance of his English accent at the expense of nuance and timing.

Seeming more comfortable in his role, Craig Allen Mummey plays John Worthing with zest, savoring every witticism, as he romps through the weighty dialogue.

Lynne Bouchard-Junette seems flawless as the imperious Lady Bracknell, stealing nearly every scene.

Although occasionally a bit stiff, Rebecca Ellis is generally a believable Gwendolen, best at being rigidly proper, manipulating her parasol to bolster her inflexible image.

Kimberly Fizdale's Miss Prism is a funny, prudish, vulnerable and lonely governess. Jessica Searle is appealing as Jack's independent young ward, Cecily Cardew.

Well-cast supporting actors include Rick Hall as London manservant Lane, providing some fine comic moments, Barry Knower as the Rev. Chasuble and John Malloy as country manservant Merriman.

The Importance of Being Earnest continues on weekends through May 11 at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park, a half-mile past Crofton.

Tickets: 301-805-0219.

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