The Importance of Being Earnest
Teatro La Quindicina production at The Varscona Theatre
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
July 12 to 28, 2018

Review by GRAHAM HICKS,  Hicksbiz.com

Watching The Importance of Being Earnest, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde’s acclaimed farce that is as robust and amusing today as  when first produced 123 years ago, is to realize this play’s seminal influence on most light-hearted humourous scripts written since it hit the stage.

There is not a comedic sit-com, a crazy Mayfield Dinner Theatre farce or humourous romantic film that does not owe a debt to The Importance of Being Earnest. 

Remarkably, Wilde’s play continues to be the standard-bearer of plot, of beautiful and witty language, of a comedy of manners. Over a century later, The Importance of Being Earnest does nothing but improve with age.

It is so appropriate for Teatro La Quindicina to stage The Importance of Being Earnest.

Teatro’s  playwright-in-residence Stewart Lemoine almost always writes in a Wilde-like manner, Lemoine being a master of elegant triviality, of insight through exaggerated ordinariness, of romantic characters, of making wide detours to avoid the dreary polemics of political correctness so infecting the current crop of Canadian playwrights.

In fact, there’s no more ideal production house for Wilde’s stellar play than Teatro La Quindicina. Its core group of some 20 comedic actors have been working together for decades, are innately tuned to one another’s talents and have performed in so many of Lemoine’s  Wildesque comedies that to do an actual Wilde play is as comfortable for them as slipping into well-worn slippers.

The cast’s comic abilities and familiarity with the turf brings out the very best within Wilde’s famous script.  The Importance of Being Earnest is  often mauled and  bashed  about by earnest amateur or semi-professional theatre groups who fail to carry the long, demanding humourous dialogues Wilde writes for his two chief protagonists, Algernon and Jack.

But this production, in the hands of a troupe that has been Wildesque since its conception in 1982, is close to perfect.

Start with the two London gadabouts who concoct fictitious stories about imaginary relatives elsewhere  as a means of escape from the confines and rigid behavior of the monied classes. Mark Meer and Ron Pederson are  wonderful as Jack and Algernon , their physical humour and on-stage rapport being a delicious vehicle in which Wilde’s brilliant satire can ride. Meer is forever Darth Vader in comedic form, Pederson dances about like an Irish gnome. Take this as a compliment of the highest order. The duo is reaching a level of interactive comedy that’s closing in on Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby.

What a treat to see the grand doyenne of Edmonton comedy, Leona Brausen, back in a major role as Lady Bracknell, the iron-fisted Victorian grand-dame always the spoiler to Jack and Algernon’s plans and ambitions. The only quibble I would have with this production is director Jeff Haslam’s decision , in the interests of the ensemble as a whole, to keep Leona’s  zany comedic instincts on a tight leash.

The entire cast happily dances around the antics of Meer and Pederson – again with a cadence and rhythm that comes from intimate familiarity with each other’s styles. Shannon Blanchet and Louise Lambert are delightful as the young ingenues trying to figure out the truths behind their suitors’ (Jack and Algernon) outlandish excuses.   Cathy Derkach (Miss Prism) and Julien Arnold (the reverend Chasuble – every good English farce needs an Anglican vicar) have their own inspired comic turns in the orbits circling the two principal lads.

Wilde is a prince of the English language – his every turn of phrase is yet another jewel.  The plot of The Importance of Being Earnest, and its end resolution, is triviality at its most brilliant.

Before the bleak days at the end of his young life – imprisoned after a sensational trial  for the then-crime of active homosexuality - Wilde was a leading proponent of aestheticism, that beauty, art, wit and levity were more than enough on which to build a meaningful life, that fine-polished triviality could be just as satisfying as social crusade, ambition or religious conviction.

Stuart Lemoine and Teatro La Quindicina have firmly followed Wilde’s dictums for its 36 years of existence. It’s hardly surprising that this troupe presents Wilde’s famous tale of comedic manners in its best possible circumstances.