‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ Still Hilarious after 100 years! (4.5 Stars)

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‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ Written by Oscar Wilde; Directed by Allison Choat; Produced by Moonbox Productions at The Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St. Boston, MA. Performances through Dec. 14th. Proceeds from this Moonbox Productions performance go to High Spirit Community Farms, helping disabled persons live a more fulfilling life.

“A good friend will always stab you in the front”.  – Oscar Wilde

If you are, or have ever been a fan of Monty Python, Seinfeld, or screwball comedies (Think: It happened One Night, or His Girl Friday) then I guarantee you will find it worth your while to venture out in the chill to see this fine performance of the quintessential Oscar Wilde gem, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. While first performed in 1895, this is a piece that seems to never go out of style.

This is Moonbox Production’s season-opening performance and they bravely decided to hit the ground running – hard. They take on Oscar Wilde’s famous story of love, lies and less than forthright characters, who dodge their social obligations via overly-complex ploys and contrivances.

Absurdist plots, witty banter and tongue-twisting diatribes are the hallmark of Mr. Wilde so I have to believe Director Allison Choate when she claims she only dared to attempt this play because she had found the cast necessary to bring it to life. And “Bring it” they do. Watching ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ done well is like watching Olympic athletes compete. It requires great performers to deliver the lines clearly and quickly, inserting them with perfect comedic timing into the tiniest of conversational moments in this slap-dash frenzy of a comedy – all the while trying not to run out of breath.

Andrew Winson plays Jack Worthing in an urgent, quavering-voiced, sometimes violent style that pushes the already madcap material to even further, funnier heights. His partner Algie is played by Glen Moore, who smartly offsets the larger than life performance of 6′ 8″ Winson with his own sly and capricious characterization. They each underhandedly connive for the attentions of two women, Gwendolyn Fairfax and Cecily Cardew played by Cat Claus (as Gwendolyn) and Poornima Kirby (as Cecily). Ms. Claus’ hysterical facial expressions were a fun counterpoint to the intense, joke-filled dialogue. There is a wonderful chemistry between Mr. Winson and Mr. Moore that aids this already smart production.
One of the absolute sparkling jewels of this production is Ed Peed as the frightfully upright, yet devious Lady Bracknell, the classic lady dowager. While not on stage as often as the two main couples of the story, Mr. Peed’s bombastic character commands your attention through every step of the story. There were times when I found myself marveling at his never-flagging delivery of long, intricate and hilarious rants.
Now, I have no idea what went through the mind of the director, Ms. Choat or actor Andrew Winson as he laid out his version of Jack Worthing, but if you don’t envision Monty Python’s John Cleese channeled directly to the stage by Mr. Winson then you have never seen John Cleese. For those who do, think of the furious Cleese in the “Dead Parrot” skit! (“This parrot is DECEASED”!!) While at first it may seem a bit distracting, the show is so fast and funny you certainly don’t have time to dwell on it as nearly every line pouring out of this joke-laden script is hilarious and rapid-fire. In fact, here I find my only – very minor – issue with the production. The locale of the Plaza Theatre, while close-up to the stage and comfortable, does not have the best acoustics. There were definitely times that some in the audience had trouble understanding all the lines. Honestly though, there are so many hilarious jokes crammed into the conversations that I feel greedy complaining about a few missed laughs.

Not to be overlooked in this ingenious and inventive production is the constant and subtle comical meanderings of the two butlers/scene changers who deliver little “mini-performances” as they clean up after other characters or move furniture between scenes. They blur the lines as they appear as both servants in the play and also comically perform there stage-hand duties between scenes.
Director Allison Choat manages to keep the pace brisk as it needs to be for this play. Kudos to her and all the performers for keeping a frantic verbal pace but not making any of the action feel rushed or forced. The play unfolds naturally and the pace quickens as one would expect until it reaches a crashingly, funny and satisfying conclusion.
If, as studies claim, listening to Mozart makes babies smarter, then surely listening to Oscar Wilde makes adults wittier. Or at least it makes us wish we were. Don’t miss this show! For more info, go to: http://moonboxproductions.org/

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