The Importance of Bunburying

“John: This ghastly state of things is what you call Bunburying, I suppose?

Algernon: Yes, and a perfectly wonderful Bunbury it is. The most wonderful Bunbury I have ever had in my life.

John: Well, you’ve no right whatsoever to Bunbury here.

Algernon: That is absurd. One has a right to Bunbury anywhere one chooses. Every serious Bunburyist knows that.”

The Importance of Being Earnest, currently playing in the black box theater at Centerpoint Legacy Theater, follows two gentleman of high society who are quite bored with their lives. Thus, they create fictional people and situations to excuse their absence from the mundane.  In the case of John, he creates a younger brother who is always in the need of rescuing.  Algernon creates Bunbury, an ailing invalid friend who Algernon often has to disappear to care for. Thus, the act of Bunburying or becoming a Bunburist enters into the story.

Earnest is a wry and absurd laugh-out-loud farcical comedy written by Oscar Wilde over 100 years ago.  I first saw Earnest several years back at Hale Center Theater and I fell in love with the production.  So much so that when I was in New York and it was playing on Broadway, I paid to see it there as well.  Sadly, the Broadway production crushed my love of the show. I found it dry, horribly overdone, in fact (don’t tell anyone), I may have even dosed off.

After such a horrific experience on Broadway, I’d convinced myself that I’d fallen in love with the actors at Hale and not the show itself.   I’d like to thank Centerpoint for restoring my love and faith in this brilliant work.  It would seem, that with the right production, Earnest really is a gem.

Algernon seems to approach life as a game, considering nothing quite as serious as what he is currently eating.  Richie Uminski did a wonderful job conveying the capricious character of Algernon.  From the constant smirk to the lackadaisical strolling around the stage, one is drawn into his absurd charisma.   Uminski’s comedic timing, facial expressions and carless attitude captured Algernon perfectly.

“John: How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

John: I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.”

John on the other hand seems wiser and while still throws out flippant remarks on society, he is much more reserved in his approach to life. The moment Jon Rash stepped on stage, I smiled.  He looked and carried himself exactly how John should. What a charmer.

As these two friends journey through the show, we meet their love interests; Gwendolen (Jessica Love) and Cecily (Jillian Tirado). Gwendolen is the cousin of Algernon and has fallen in love with John.  However, they met when he was going by his alter ego Earnest.   Cecily, who is the ward of John, meets and falls in love with Algernon, who also happens to be going by the name of Earnest as well.  Mayhem ensues when we find out the women couldn’t possibly ever bring themselves to love a man who is not named Earnest.

I never quite got into the rhythm of things with Love’s portrayal of Gwendolen.  Gwendolen has always been the older, but wiser character of the two women but in this representation, she felt too young and the depth of years of experience didn’t come through.   Tirado, on the other hand, made me actually like Cecily.  In the past, I’ve always seen her as a flaky, annoying child.  While still absurd, I saw some back bone and found her strength (and awesome comedic timing) to be refreshing.

Lady Bracknell (strongly played by Allisha Larsen), Algernon’s Aunt holds status and society to the highest regard and is absolutely opposed to the potential nuptial of her daughter, Gwendolen to John and provides some of the most memorable zingers of the evening. After learning that John was literally lost when he was a baby and does not know who his parents are, she remarks with the upmost righteousness: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

Director Jansen Davis does a great job keeping the pace of this production. I am pleased to say that I was surprised when the first act ended because I was having so much fun and things had just flown by.   The movement and use of space kept the energy up, felt natural and fluid. The small moments of John checking his teeth in a spoon and the women within the house striking poses certainly lent to the overall enjoyment of the show.

The use of the stage was done well and the set up of Act II and III made excellent use of the space.  However, the pieces in the set (Courtney Christison), while time period appropriate and well designed, were too age worn to be believed as pieces found in the homes of the elite.  The majority of the costumes (Sandy Hunsaker) were done well done and particularly fun in the case of Algernon’s fashion sense.   And I should also mention how impressed I was will all the actors and their accents.

Earnest is a lighthearted timeless comedy that is very tongue-and-cheek.  With more quotes and quips than I could possible ever list. Conventions of marriage, status, culture and love are prime targets for Wilde’s wit.   The antics and flippant treatment of social norms show that Earnest is more than a carefree comedy though. Oscar Wilde took great care to hammer the cultures highest held traditions and provided a somewhat jaded look at the world he lived in. Within months of this funny, outlandish play opening he was imprisoned for being a homosexual.  After several years of rough labor and captivity, he was released, only to pass away a mere 5 years after Earnest opened.

It’s sad to think that such a beautiful writer’s life and work were cut so short but his talent and lasting ability to lift one’s soul with laughter will be treasured for another 100 years to come. If you are in the need of a good laugh, I recommend checking out one of my all time favorite plays – The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest is playing in the Connie Leishman Performance Hall at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre in Centerville through April 28th. Tickets my be purchased by clicking here.

 

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