Closing Bowie Community Theatre's successful season, Frank B. Moorman directs a delicious production of Oscar Wilde's drawing room comedy,The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde's parody of British upper class morals and manners has the reputation of being one of the finest comedies in the English language. The play was produced in England in 1885, the year comedian Wilde got to know tragedy first hand. He was accused of homosexual practices, for which he later was found guilty and imprisoned. His Earnest comedy has fared better, thriving in its third century. A film version starring Dame Judi Dench is to be released this year.
The plot is all frivolity. Two upper crust friends, Algernon Moncrieff (Richard Atha-Nicholls) and John Worthing (Craig Allen Mummey), lead secretive lives. Moncrieff invents an acquaintance, Bunbury, who lives in the country. Bunbury allows him the freedom to escape his constrained city existence to dally in all sorts of unsavory country experiences. Wilde wisely leaves these indiscretions to the audience's ever fertile imagination.
Worthing, meanwhile, invents a troublesome brother, Ernest, who lives in the city, which allows him the opportunity to escape his country life for more sophisticated adventures.
The fun starts when Worthing wants to marry the Honorable Gwendolen Fairfax (Rebecca Ellis), Moncrieff's upper class cousin. At the same time, Moncrieff meets Worthing's ward Cecily (Jessica Searle).
The action is all in the words, and Moorman's astute, finely paced production keeps the dialogue moving. He combines newcomers and company regulars to deliver Wilde's witty phrases and clever barbs. The actors keep up with Wilde, speaking their lines with clarity and speed. The cast is so adroit at verbal comedy and Moorman's direction is so on the mark that the audience hears the lines, has just enough time to digest them, react with laughter and be ready for the next. As epigram follows epigram, each player has a voice in turning the mores of the class and century upside down.
Opening the play, Rick Hall (the butler Lane) makes his Bowie Community Theatre debut on a rollicking note. His ever-so-proper butler tipples and thieves as a matter of course.
Another Bowie first-timer, Atha-Nicholls walks and talks like an Englishman of privilege whose stiff outward appearance belies his adventuresome dalliances.
Rebecca Ellis - recently seen on Colonial Player's stage - is the epitome of a proper upper crust young woman ... until you look at her eyes. They have a come-hither, naughty, flirty look. She accomplishes more with her eyes than most actresses do with bare skin. When she tells Worthing that the "divine" name Ernest gives her ... "confidence" ... the word produces remarkable vibrations.
Lynne Bouchard-Junette (Lady Bracknell), an actress from Southern Maryland's stages, is Gwendolen's mother. Her role is the meatiest and funniest in the play. Bouchard-Junette gives a forceful performance as the over-the -top, proper mama and arbiter of manners. Every phrase she utters sets the upper class back a notch. "I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance," she says.
Craig Allen Mummey (John Worthing), a Bowie Community Theatre fixture - he's actor, former president, set designer and director - gives a magnificent performance as John aka Ernest. His sincerity, charm and naturalness are in stark contrast with the rest of the characters. Mummey excels at gesturing: throwing his hands in the air, raising his eyebrows and groaning. His proposal to Gwendolen brought gales of laughter from the opening-night audience.
Jessica Searle makes her company debut as John Worthing's ward. Dressed in plain country style, she is ready for the excitement of meeting the errant Ernest. Her fertile imagination and diary add to the confusion.
Barry Knower (Rev. Canon Chasuble) provides fodder for Wilde's parody of religion while Kimberly Fizdale (Miss Prism) gives the role of governess a new twist.
Robert C. Bates' set design is simple yet effective, moving from a town home to a country mansion and garden with style and ease. Suzanne Reams, with the assistance of Mary Cangeme and Lee Grier, has designed opulent ladies' finery. The lovely dresses have beautiful lines. Carrying through with the 1800s are the ladies' parasols, fans and gloves. The costumes for Lady Bracknell should win prizes.
Each of Bowie Community Theatre's plays this delightful season - Black Coffee, Saving Grace and The Importance of Being Earnest - has shown us a slice of theater: mystery, light comedy and parody. It will be interesting to see what the next season brings.
Directed by Frank B. Moorman. Produced by Lin Mascia. Set design: Robert C. Bates. Lighting and sound design: Garrett R. Hyde. Costume design: Suzanne Reams. With John Malloy.