Review: “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Wandernook Theatre

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  • Shawn Stalter, Contributing Critic - Dallas/Ft. Worth

Wandernook Theatre brought Oscar Wilde’s, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” to life with well-crafted dialogue, authentic costuming and grace which paid homage to this beloved tale highlighting the absurdities of courtship, class--and earnestness--in Victorian-era high society.

Set in England in the late 1800s, “The Importance of Being Earnest” explores the double lives of two friends, John (Jack) Worthing, skilfully performed by Stephen Long, and Algernon Moncrieff as imagined by the dynamic Jared Duncan. Through his alternate persona, Ernest, Jack enjoys an escape from responsibilities as steward of his young ward, Cecily Cardew, played by the exuberant Melanie Baxter. Similarly, an imaginary acquaintance, the invalid Bunbury, offers Algernon an excuse to avoid cumbersome social obligations. Much to the audience’s enjoyment, both men’s desires to paint the town red through their alter egos collide headlong as Jack pursues marital bliss with Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax, as embodied by the effervescent Chloe Stout.

Director John Pszyk’s interpretation of this classic work upheld the nuance and charm of the original without attempting to skew the content or exaggerate the characters; a refreshing counterbalance to many contemporary productions who create caricatures in an attempt to draw in modern audiences. With fidelity, the talented Wandernook Theatre cast allowed the original material to flourish through well-timed dialogue, gorgeous costuming and well-developed characters.

The stage design for this production was simple but sufficient to transport the audience from the parlor to the garden and all points beyond without detracting from the action. Although the first act took a few moments to gain its footing, the production found solid ground by the second act and drew the audience in for a hilariously combustible collision of personalities.

Ivy Opdyke’s performance as Lady Bracknell was the true highlight of the show. Her capricious attitude as she grills Jack on matters of income, family history--and more--was uproariously entertaining. Additionally, her commanding stage presence and masterly-timed fourth wall breaks gained rapport with the audience and gave the production a well-polished quality.

Overall, this is a praise-worthy production of a beloved classic; it delightfully cracks the thin veneer of high-mindedness and civility which defined Victorian-era high society.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Wandernook Theatre is directed by John Pszyk and stars Jared Duncan as Algernon Moncrieff, Stephen S. Long as John (Jack) Worthing, Chloe Stout as Gwendolen Fairfax, Melanie Baxter as Cecily Cardew, Elizabeth Moore as Miss Prism, Steve Haid as Lane and Merriman, and Ivy Opdyke as Lady Bracknell. The play runs through Feb 24th at the Wandernook Theatre, located at 306 N. Church Street, McKinney, Texas. Learn more about the Wandernook Theatre and reserve your seat for an upcoming performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by visiting https://www.wandernook.com or calling (469) 919-0031.

Photo credit:  Christie Connell, Azure Photography