“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST,” CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, Davis Center for the Performing Arts, through April 28 at 7 p.m., $15, 801-298-1302 or CenterPointTheatre.org
CENTERVILLE — In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the playwright follows through on the subtitle he gave to his work, “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” and he gives serious people trivial treatment — especially when the topic is marriage.
Oscar Wilde wanted to skewer the strict Victorian social order of marriage. While couplings were made to advance social rank or increase wealth, Wilde had the modern sensibility that marriage should be based on compatibility and love. Consider this comic line he gives a character who believes, once the pairing of a man and a woman is arranged, that marriage should quickly follow:
“To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people an opportunity of finding out each other’s characters before marriage. Which I think is never advisable.”
And the best piece of acerbic wit against the ties that bind: “In married life three is company and two is none.”
At the CenterPoint Legacy staging of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” much of the hilarity of Wilde’s comedy of manners is on display. The first production in the Connie Leishman Performance Hall black-box theater, the “Earnest” reviewed here had nary an empty seat. The audience was fully engaged in the nine-character play and had a laugh-filled, engaging night of theater. And the play, a timeless classic, is proven once again to be a timeless classic.
Director Jansen Davis never allows the actors to overplay their roles. There’s great trust in the strength of the author’s work. Davis, who has helmed “Earnest” twice previously, sets a quick pace, although at times a new line of dialogue is begun before the audience is finished laughing at the line that preceded it.
And sadly the dialogue that is my favorite — “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” — quizzically falls flat.
Many of the play’s best lines are delivered with precise authority by Allisha Larsen as Lady Bracknell — a “gorgon” (a choice word showing Wilde's brillance) who is trying to enforce her single-minded dedication to marriage. Larsen is quite capable of heightening the humor without overly exaggerating. She relishes the role and clearly has a jolly good time as the societal grande dame.
Also savoring their stage time — and recognizing their importance — are the two Earnests of the play’s title. Each of the lead characters of John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff initially take on the guise of Earnest to lead a more carefree life without concern for immediate marriage. It’s pleasing to watch Tom Wente as John and Richie Uminski as “Algy” in their roles.
Completing the enjoyable cast are Jillian Tirado as Cecily Cardew, one of the brides-to-be; Missy Riffle as Miss Prism; and Jeremy Jonsson as her clerical admirer, Dr. Chasuble. Tyler Clawson, playing butlers, adds to the show's success.