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'Earnest' cast achieves unrivaled performance

Amid the packed streets and deafening surroundings of New York City, a seemingly separate world exists inside the American Airlines Theatre.

On March 18, I entered the classic 93-year-old building with high expectations for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

The show, which will run through July 3, held the crowd’s attention every second with its quick, witty dialogue, superb acting and elaborate visuals.

Wilde’s complex story line follows the strivings of two couples lost in miscommunication and identity switches. The sensible John Worthing (David Furr) is believed to be called “Earnest” by his upscale potential wife, Gwendolen Fairfax (Sara Topham), who rhapsodizes about the name’s appeal.

John’s friend and Gwendolen’s cousin, the mischievous and food-obsessed Algernon Moncrieff (Santino Fontana), seeks to meet John’s fresh young ward, Cecily Cardew (Charlotte Parry). In his attempt to meet her, he claims that he is a brother of John and is named Earnest.

As expected, a great amount of confusion and conflict erupts when Gwendolen and Cecily meet, both under the impression that they are engaged to “Earnest.” The men are faced with the challenge of setting things straight, keeping their women and winning the approval of Gwendolen’s and Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell (Brian Bedford).

Although the plot is complicated, full of names and imaginary people, the cast and director, Bedford, worked through the dialogue to stage the play in an easy-to-follow way. Each actor gave his or her character a distinct personality, which assisted in the process of figuring out who was doing what and why.

The two most impressive performances were from Fontana and Bedford. From the second Fontana appeared onstage, he commanded the crowd’s attention with his natural expressions, movements and speech. In addition to his amusing lines, Algernon’s character was brought to life through Fontana’s mannerisms.

I especially appreciated his mischievous smile, which emerged whenever Algernon found himself in a scrape, and silently pleaded to John to go along with whatever story he was making up. The mere look on his face, reflected through his whole posture, was enough to make the crowd laugh.

Another endearing characteristic was Algernon’s constant focus on food. The lines where he obsessed over cucumber sandwiches could have been presented in a number of ways, many of which would have seemed forced and trite. However, Fontana’s portrayal was natural in a hilarious way, giving the impression that Algernon’s top priority was snagging the last cucumber sandwich.

At one point, Fontana’s food enthusiasm nearly backfired, when he dropped a sandwich on his chest as he reclined on a couch. Instead of breaking character, he flashed the sly smile, popped the sandwich into his mouth, brushed off the crumbs and proceeded with the scene. For all I know, the drop could have been scripted, since his cover was so smooth. Altogether, I loved Fontana’s energy, personality and polished performance.

Bedford’s performance was unique and intriguing, as he played the refined and strict Lady Bracknell. The audience applauded him as he appeared onstage, so he immediately had respect and attention as a highly regarded actor.

He lived up to his impressive credits, implementing a hilarious attribute to the show. His acting was not only convincing as a dignified woman but also amusing when he spoke in a deep tone at occasional moments for emphasis. Like Fontana, he commanded all eyes when he was onstage through his compelling performance.

I have only one complaint about the acting. Both Topham as Gwendolen and Parry as Cecily had irritating voices, which didn’t make for a pleasant-to-hear ring through the theater, as opposed to Fontana’s pure projections. Since Cecily is a young character, Parry contorted her voice into an immature, nasal tone. While it did fit her role to an extent, I wasn’t eager to hear her monologues.

On a visual level, The Importance of Being Earnest was stunning. The three acts called for three separate sets, each of which were detailed and grand. The parlor locations of the first and third act were exquisitely detailed with decorations, appealing colors and ornamental fabrics. I found the second act’s garden particularly stunning, with cascades of roses and plants. The sets all had a refreshing sense of simplicity, yet they still were intricate.

Likewise, the costumes were elegant and elaborate. The young women’s flowing dresses had beautiful shades of purple, pink and cream, with flattering shapes and designs. The rich colors and froths of lace put Bedford in the perfect manner for his role as Lady Bracknell. Algernon’s bright stripes and bow ties, contrasted with soft plaid, gave a visual representation of his silly personality.

In every area possible, The Importance of Being Earnest was polished and memorable. Between its story, acting and design, the play was compelling and one that I certainly won’t forget. Judging by the laughter at nearly every line, generous applause and standing ovation, it seemed that the other crowd members had a similar reaction to Wilde’s show. I rank the Roundabout Theatre Company’s performance as absolute best.

The Importance of Being Earnest runs at two hours and 20 minutes, and is currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and showtimes, visit the Roundabout Theatre Company’s website.

For more drama reviews, read the March 23 article, ‘Catch Me If You Can’ stages Broadway brilliance.

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  • B

    Bridget TeixeiraSep 7, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Wow, that’s an amazing sign.. I wonder who made it? 🙂

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  • A

    Alexandra BarisicSep 7, 2011 at 12:02 am

    I always say that I am going to give blood, but always get scared and don’t follow through with my promise to myself because of my fear of needles and having them stuck into me.

    This year, I again said I would give but got cold feet right around noon. When I went to my seventh period class, Mr. Foshee came in looking to recruit students to donate.

    I didn’t say anything, so he said to me right before he left: “What about you, Alex? You’re hiding in the corner.” I turned around to answer, but right away he added: “Oh you can’t ’cause you’re on antibiotics.” Then I remembered, “I am on antibiotics! Because of my cough!” I seized my excuse, so this year I do not feel as guilty about not giving blood.

    Reply