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Its all too much for the woozy Miss Prism

OSF&

s &

145;Earnest&

hits all the high points in classic Wilde play

What&

s in a name? Ernest, for instance. It can represent intent in purpose, seriousness, or battle to the death. The latter certainly fitted Hemingway, the bear. In Oscar Wilde&

s case, it&

s the whole play, neatly named &

The Importance of Being Earnest,&

that opened last Saturday in the Bowmer Theatre and plays throughout OSF&

s 2006 season.

— — Wilde Words — — &

149;It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn&

t — a dentist. It creates a false impression. — — &

149;You don&

t seem to realize in married life three is company and — two is none. — &

149;Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven&

t got — the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when — to die. — &

149;It is a terrible thing for a man to find out that all his life he — has been speaking nothing but the truth. — &

149;I do not approve of anything that tampers with ignorance. Ignorance — is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.

It is one of Wilde&

s self-described &

Trivial comedies for serious people.&

Well, seriously, his expose of the shallowness and hypocrisy of Victorian society is one long laugh because it is done with such ingenuity, cleverness, wit, and style. The epigrams trip off the tongues and are as titillating today as they were in 1895 when the play was first produced, six years before Queen Victoria&

s death.

Wilde apparently thought he could afford to take a look at the idle rich, and introduces us to one such, Algernon (Algy) Montcrieff (Kevin Kenerly) in his West End flat in Half-Moon Street. He is awaiting the arrival of Lady Bracknell (Judith-Marie Bergan) &

his Aunt Augusta &

and her daughter, the Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax (Heather Robison). They are unexpectedly preceded by John (Jack) Worthing, J.P. (Jeff Cummings), a friend known to him as Ernest.

Peter Amster, the director, enriches the play with his inimitable touches, such as the prelude to Act One when Merriman the butler sets the tea table to the piano accompaniment of &

Fur Elise.&

It is wonderfully choreographed and perfectly performed by Richard Elmore. No wonder he earned the first big hand of the evening.

So, just what are these two men up to? Algy tells Jack: &

You have invented a very useful brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to I go down into the country whenever I choose.&

Jack responds that he will kill off Ernest, his alter ego.

However, Gwendolen has fallen in love with (Jack as) Ernest &

a name she thinks suits him perfectly, is a divine name, has a music of its own, and produces vibrations. &

The only really safe name,&

she avers, &

is Ernest.&

Algy, by devious means, gets to meet Jack&

s ward, the charming Cecily Cardew (Julie Oda), and sets his cap at her. The trouble is she confesses it has always been her girlish dream to love someone whose name is Ernest. &

There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence,&

she insists. &

I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest.&

What a predicament the two men face, a crisis of name, for which christening seems the only remedy. Fortunately, if need be, the local rector, the Rev. Canon Chasuble (Jonathan Haugen) is on hand, who has more than a passing interest in Cecily&

s governess, Miss Prism (Dee Maaske). As the relationships between all parties become more entangled, Miss Prism emerges as a key figure. As for Algy and Jack, they continue to harangue one another, with Algy munching like mad on muffins. It&

s a scene of &

gorge&

ous gluttony! And in another classic scene, Lady Bracknell, trying to determine if Jack is a worthy suitor for her daughter, delves into his finances and pedigree, only to learn that he had been found in a somewhat large black leather hand-bag, with handles to it, in the cloakroom at Victoria Station, given to his kindly benefactor in mistake. He knows nothing about his parents or birth. But Wilde, all in good time, lets the cat out of the (hand) bag.

The play is mounted resplendently and there is much to tease the eye and ear. William Bloodgood&

s scenic design uses the rotating stage to excellent effect, whether it is Algy&

s posh flat, the garden of Jack&

s country estate, or the drawing room with the shelves of books and row of busts. It is complemented by the lighting design of Ann G. Wrightson, often strikingly beautiful and highlighted with a spot (the black leather hand-bag is a case in point).And Mara Blumenfeld&

s costumes are elegantly Victorian, and lovely to look at, male and female alike.

The actors have a field day. Kevin Kenerly literally eats up the role of Algy and ripples off the epigrams as to the manner born, while Jeff Cummings is handsomely outraged. They play off and feed one another deliciously (after all, there is quite a lot of talk about food and drink). Judith-Marie Bergan as Lady Bracknell is the Grande Dame and impressively imperious; Dee Maaske as Miss Prism is simply Deelightful, as always; the petite Julie Oda as Cecily is pert, oh so pretty in pink, and just adorable; and Heather Robison as Gwendolen gives us a well-rounded character &

self-assured, well informed, and incurably romantic.