The Importance of Being Earnest Brings Laughs to Phoenix's Herberger Theater
Some theater experiences leave you overwhelmed by somber themes and dense dialogue. However, Arizona Theatre Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest can pretty much erase all that darkness in the course of two and a half hours with its extravagant costumes and sets, playful blend of modern and classical music, and a focus on keeping Oscar Wilde's spirit of comedy and frivolity. With each actor giving life to unique character types, this version stays true to classic Victorian satire's roots while lending itself to a modern interpretation that will have you laughing your way through nearly the entire performance.
Tim Fuller Matt Leisy is as hilarious as he is frivolous as Algernon Moncrieff.
Although Stephen Wrentmore is a seasoned director and an avid Wilde fan, this is his first time bringing one of Wilde's plays to stage. With the first half taking place in front of gigantic peacock feather fan, it becomes clear that the world Wrentmore is working in is over the top and indulgent. Actor Matt Leisy, who plays Algernon Moncrieff, establishes himself rather quickly in the play as a source of commentary and comedy. Despite being an outrageously goofy dandy, his character still seems somewhat realistic as the kind of guy you can imagine getting cocktails and gossiping with all day, knowing that he'd definitely tell everyone anything you told him.
As the play progresses, Wrentmore's attention to the sound of British aristocracy shines through with each trill of an "R," nasally sneer, and jovial vocal intonation. The difference between the sound of the older, more lustful and dramatic Gwendolen Fairfax (played by Anneliese Van Der Pol) contrasted with the sweet, childlike over-annunciation from Cecily Cardew (played by Heather Marie Cox) alone would speak to their characters as much as costuming or dialogue could. Without ever seeing any single character, it seems you could get a sense of their entire temperament from just hearing them speak.
Tim Fuller Anneliese Van Der Pol and Heather Marie Cox surprise the audience with a funny, modern musical addition.
Another area where this production absolutely blossoms is the set and costume design. Made entirely in Tucson by the Arizona Theatre Company for this production, the large, surreal, and beautiful sets transition from the peacock fan backdrop sitting room in the city to a rose covered country home and garden at the play's finish. Lady Bracknell's costuming, mostly in black, white, and red, clearly shows her role as a sinister, albeit ridiculous, force in the play's plot. Algernon is dressed more whimsically, Gwendolen more indulgently with rich fabrics and feathers, and Cecily more innocently in pink and flowers.