Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being EarnestThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read The Importance of Being Earnest in high school. While I enjoyed it then, I lacked a lot of the context necessary for understanding much of the satire. Luckily, Oscar Wilde is funny even without the context. But, it helps.

The narrative takes place in drawing rooms and gardens, first in London and then in the English countryside. Jack Worthing goes by the name of Earnest when he's in London, so his young female ward won't try to model her behavior after how he acts in the city. He confesses his ruse to his friend Algernon Montcrief, who has a similar ruse of a sick friend named Bunbury. Algernon differs from Jack only in how proud he is of deception. While Jack might appear to be the more upright of the two, he's no less of a liar.

Such machinations exist in comedies to be found out, though, and they are. When Jack proposes to his lady love, Gwendolen Fairfax, she tells him it's his name as much as anything else she loves, and he plots to legally change it. Algernon goes to the countryside, meanwhile, posing himself as Earnest. Cecily Cardew, Jack's young ward, is in love with Earnest, though, and Algernon immediately falls for her, and proposes.

Conflict in this play is brief, often silly, and solved relatively quickly. The matter of Jack's birth is answered in the final scene of the play, and in a way that neatly wraps it up.

The humor within the play is very British: dry, satirical, and sometimes silly. Anyone who likes British comedy but doesn't like Oscar Wilde is suspect, in my eyes, as most of it seems to derive from Wilde's works. Some of it's highbrow, but there's some bawdy humor, as well as some poking fun at the institute of marriage and the war of the sexes.

I listened to this play as a performance by  James Marsters, Charles Busch, Emily Burgl, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, Christopher Neame, and Matthew Wolf, produced by L.A. Theatre Works. There are a number of sound effects added, among them the sound of a live audience. I couldn't help but wonder what Wilde might've thought of laugh tracks, though it did make for an enjoyable listening experience. The actors' comic timing was perfect, and Marsters as Jack/Earnest was excellent.

I'm glad I revisited this play. I didn't hate it in high school, but I feel like I couldn't possibly have appreciated it for what it was, back then.

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