Community Andrew Kittrell plays Algernon Moncreif in the Lakewood Playhouse's adaptation of "Earnest." Cecily Cardew (Cassie Jo Fastabend) and Gwendolen Fairfax (Deya Ozburn) look on. Photo courtesy Dean Lapin

Published on June 26th, 2013 | by Grace Heerman

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Lakewood Playhouse’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is a Fanciful Summertime Delight

The cast of Earnest. From left:

The cast of Earnest at the Lakewood Playhouse. Photo courtesy Dean Lapin 

Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of frivolity and farcical romance has found a home at the Lakewood Playhouse, brought to life under the steady hand of director Marilyn Bennett. This century-old satire has just as much relevance and punch as it ever did thanks to top-notch performances and a committed behind-the-scenes crew.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the conflict surrounds four young protagonists – gentlemanly John Worthing (Bryan K. Bender), ostentatious Algernon Moncrieff (Andrew Kittrell), stiff-necked Gwendolen Fairfax (Deya Ozburn) and head-in-the-clouds Cecily Cardew (Cassie Jo Fastabend) – each of whom claims to be in sincere pursuit of love, and each of whom is blissfully unaware of his or her dandyism.

Gwendolen and Cecily insist that only a man by the name of ‘Earnest’ will ever be worthy of her hand; John and Algernon are eager to appease, and each invents his own irresistible alter-ego in hopes of gaining his darling’s approval. Inevitably, identities are confused, secrets are revealed and a comical unraveling ensues. Overseeing all is the patronizing Lady Bracknell (Syra Beth Puett), whose approval everyone is wont to gain.

Andrew Kittrell plays Algernon Moncreif in the Lakewood Playhouse's adaptation of "Earnest." Cecily Cardew (Cassie Jo Fastabend) and Gwendolen Fairfax (Deya Ozburn) look on. Photo courtesy Dean Lapin

Andrew Kittrell as the ostentatious Algernon Moncrieff. Cecily Cardew (Cassie Jo Fastabend) and Gwendolen Fairfax (Deya Ozburn) look on. Photo courtesy Dean Lapin

The cast is small, and all were unquestionably committed to their roles. Their camaraderie was palpable and brought honesty and soul to the show.

Each of the leads gave a standout performance, but my favorites came from Kittrell and Fastabend whose baby-faced buffoonery was as endearing as it was ridiculous. Ozburn deserves praise as well, embodying Gwendolen’s delusional snobbishness with confidence and control.

Comedic timing was generally spot-on, though there were a few missed opportunities. Though it took some time for me to feel settled and for the characters to hit their stride, I had a smile on my face for the entirety of the second act.

Champion of community theater and current associate professor of theater arts at University of Puget Sound, Director Marilyn Bennett has lent both the technical expertise and heartwarming energy this 19th-century classic calls for.

Bennett’s choice to stage her adaptation in the round was a good one; it created an intimacy between the audience and actors that helped mitigate any impermeability the Victorian-era setting might have created. The actors demonstrated expert control of the space, and though faces weren’t always visible, I didn’t feel left out of the action – a testament both to Bennett’s skillful blocking, and to each actor’s mastery of the stage.

This intimacy also allows the audience an up-close look at the impeccable costuming, which was an unexpected treat. Costume designer Alex Lewington is well acquainted with Earnest, having both costumed the show and stepped into the shoes of two of its main characters. Her expertise is obvious, and lends not only historical accuracy, but also texture and depth to Wilde’s whimsical universe. The pomp and pretension of Lady Bracknell’s jewel-toned garb and Algernon’s absurdly exotic silken loungewear were particularly fitting.

The amusingly choreographed scene change between scenes one and two was a delightful surprise, a transition that undoubtedly posed a challenge considering the show’s central staging. Bennett’s creative problem solving skills shone here, the bit earning more than a few laughs.

It was an all-ages audience at the Thursday, June 20 showing, and I have no doubt every member was entertained. Even those who may find the language challenging will surely be amused by the costumes and larger-than-life characters.

Earnest will be showing through July 14: Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Ticket prices:

General admission – $24

Senior/military – $21

Students/educators – $18

On Thursday, June 27 the Playhouse is putting on a special “Pay What You Can” Actor’s Benefit performance, beginning at 8pm.

For advanced tickets and more information, see the Lakewood Playhouse website.

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