The story of Earnest is classically light and farcical, centering around upper crust playboy Jack Worthing (Joe Lehman) and upper crust playboy Algernon Moncrieff (David Blixt), each of whom falls in love with an upper crust lady - Gwendolyn Fairfax (Rachel Hull) and Cecily Cardew (Lydia Hiller) respectively - under the false pretense that his name is actually Earnest.
Of course, the story is really just a vehicle for Oscar Wilde's pith and vinegar, which are carried off beautifully by MSF's cast. Director Janice L. Blixt has created a crisp and lively production that takes full advantage of its own silliness, much to the delight of the opening night audience. Lehman and Blixt as Worthing and Moncrieff are a dashing duo of dalliance and dramatics. Their timing is superb, and their sort of odd couple dynamic and schoolboy sincerity provide bit after hilarious bit, rarely giving the audience a chance to catch our breath. As their ladies love, Gwendolyn and Cecily, Hull and Hiller are deliciously funny. They nimbly punctuate their exchanges with the razor-sharp precision required by great comedy, fully embracing every moment of frivolity and feistiness. And while I never relish taking one of those too-rare women's roles away from an actress, David Turrentine is terrific as the imposing matriarch Lady Bracknell. He never plays the drag as a bit, but inhabits the character thoroughly, giving Lady Bracknell all the force and majesty she feels quite certain that she is entitled to. Alan Ball is utterly charming as the lovestruck intellectual Reverend Chasuble. Wendy Kate Hiller has some fun bits as his timid temptress Miss Prism, though she ultimately misses some pretty important comic opportunities in the final scene. Rounding out the play are the butlers Lane (Brandon St. Clair Saunders) and Merriman (Rick Eva), both of whom skillfully apply their own dry drollery to the proceedings. Aside from the inexplicable and distracting banana bit near the end of the play (you'll see what I mean), they are very nearly prototypes of exactly how a comic manservant should be used.
Jeromy Hopgood's scenic design seems a little too empty and sprawling in the first act, but fills out nicely in the second and third (yes - it's three acts, but Janice L. Blixt's brisk pacing and excellent sense of fun give the piece a momentum that positively flies), providing ample opportunities for the lively bits that populate the production. Suzanne Young's costume design is straight up fantastic, placing the action firmly in its historical moment, and speaking volumes about each character in a single glance. And the sheer scope of the sleeves on Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn's dresses should probably win her and her stitchers some sort of medal. Kate Hopgood's sound design provides a clear and appropriately subtle environment for the proceedings. Diane Fairchild's lighting design is perhaps the design element that participates the least in the world of the play, but she provides what is needed, and that's just fine by me.
So make the trip out to Jackson for a production that is a positive smorgasbord of comedic delights (my metaphor was drawn from... food).
The Importance of Being Earnest continues at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival through August 15. Tickets range from $31-$40. For more information, visit http://www.michiganshakespearefestival.com/.
NOTE: I regret that I will not be able to make it out for the MSF's third offering, Cymbeline. It is a play that, in my opinion, is not done nearly enough. And I applaud them for giving this gem its day! Don't miss your chance to see it!