Oscar Wilde’s Classic Still Frothy and Entertaining at Age 125

by Julia Doerr

The Importance of Being Earnest is a beloved old stage comedy that premiered in London on February 14, 1895. Its playwright, the notable wit Oscar Wilde, filled it with smart and funny talk, talk, talk and amusing characters who are both ridiculous and lovable. The play was popular in its own time, and has remained a mainstay of the theater ever since. It is no less entertaining now than it was 125 years ago. Its gentle satire of both the British class system and human nature is still relevant.

In the current production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Lincoln Community Playhouse, a very competent cast acts out the script with style and expressiveness that serve Wilde’s creation well. The two male leads, Kameron Archer as the very arch Algernon Moncrieff and Sam Pynes as John Worthing (aka the titular Earnest), are delightful in their roles as young Victorian swains who have learned to use subterfuge in order to have a little fun. Each has created a fictional character to serve his own ends, and each discovers that, though useful for a time, these characters can cause a bunch of trouble too. They both end up with a lot of explaining to do.

The young actresses who portray the love interests of Algernon and “Earnest” suit their roles well. Allison Mollenkamp and Jules Howard portray Gwendolen and Cecily as distinctly different but much alike, as evidenced in some artfully redundant speeches about what they require in potential husbands. (Oddly, they both love the name Earnest, and you will see why that is so funny.) In particular, I enjoyed Howard’s red-headed impetuousness and style of delivery in which her girlish romanticism seems to burst out in excited spurts of dialogue.

By contrast, the older female characters represent the more “old school” Victorian mores. Jeanne Kern’s portrayal of the formidable Lady Bracknell, Algernon’s aunt, is just what it should be, as she rides herd on her daughter Gwendolen and her nephew, who both seem determined to marry inappropriately—at least until some new facts are revealed. Cecily’s governess, played by Diane Gonzolas, also seems stern, until she finds some romance of her own.

The denouement of the complex comedic situation is reminiscent of a melodrama or maybe a Gilbert & Sullivan opera. There are last-minute reveals and happy resolutions, all tinged with a bit of Wildean satire. It’s 100% fun, and the double meaning of the play’s title is the key to it all.

Lincoln Community Playhouse is staging The Importance of Being Earnest as part of A Wilde Festival, a two-production event. The other production is Moises Kaufman’s play, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. It portrays events in Wilde’s life that contrast darkly with the froth of his 1895 comedy. Tragically, by May of that year, Wilde was in prison. He never wrote another comedy.

If you go: Remaining performances of The Importance of Being Earnest are at the Lincoln Community Playhouse (2500 South 56th Street) February 1 and 7 at 7:30 pm, and February 2 and 8 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available through the Playhouse box office (in person or at 402-489-7529) and online.

Julia Doerr is a retired high school English teacher with a lifelong love of plays, both as literature and performance. She assisted, as dramaturg, with the direction of several Shakespeare plays during her tenure at Lincoln High School, where she spent 27 of her 33 years teaching. Julia loves to attend the theater, to write, and to share her opinions.  That makes writing reviews her dream assignment.

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