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Monday, March 12, 2012

“Earnest” Earns Raves for Savage Rose Classical Theatre

The Importance of Being Earnest

Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Charlie Sexton

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

Natalie Fields as Gwendolyn & Neill Robertson as Jack in
 The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by Shana Lincoln.

Self-involved decadence, delicious extravagance and over-indulgent confidence. No, I’m not talking about a hotel heiress or some twenty-somethings who live on the beach in New Jersey. I am referring to The Importance of Being Earnest, that classic comedy of manners by none other than Oscar Wilde in which two women think they fall in love with a man named Earnest. Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company ends their season with this wordy comedy, and I was fortunate enough to grab a seat for the fun.

It’s hard to delve into the beauty and splendor of this play, because I truly don’t want to give away too much. The Victorian costumes designed by Shana Lincoln and lavish set design by Lily Bartenstein were just the icing on an already decadent cake. Intricate hats and ascots, area rugs and art pieces provide elegant details for Algernon Moncrieff’s flat as well as the Manor House. Complete with fine lace and silks, the set at the Nancy Niles Sexton Stage easily transports us into a time of refinement and taste even if the shenanigans themselves are anything but.

Neill Robertson as Jack, Mike Slayton as Algernon,
Julane Havens as Cecily & Natalie Fields as Gwendolyn in
The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by Shana Lincoln.

Now I’ve never considered Wilde’s play as an ensemble piece, per se. But Savage Rose has managed to assemble a dynamic cast who ably carry each other through all of the punch lines and wordplay. As Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, Neill Robertson and Mike Slaton are a couple of Victorian era Dandies who gossip and judge the indecent behavior of others while engaging in their own “strictly immoral way of life.” Julane Havens is sweet and pretty as Cecily Cardew, Algernon’s love interest. Natalie Fields as Gwendolyn is a bold contrast for Robertson. Fields and Robertson are so dramatic and animated playing against one another, with chemistry and romance that soap operas can’t even touch.

And then there is the performance of a lifetime in the form of Lady Bracknell herself. Prim, proper and the embodiment of the Victorian British ideal, in this play it’s Bracknell’s world and we’re just living in it. Upon entering, decked out in a stunning green dress and sun hat, Lady Bracknel gained an audible, collective reaction of “ooh” and “ah” from the audience. I would hate to spoil the surprise because this performance is one of the can’t-miss moments of the season, but I have to give major kudos to J. Barrett Cooper for stepping into her shoes. He steals scenes with classic facial expressions, not to mention an oddly beautiful make-up design. Cooper had the most laughs and the biggest reactions during times of little movement or speaking, particularly in the famous “handbag” scene. Indeed, Mr. Cooper deserves the standing ovation he earned opening night as well as the additional bow at curtain call.

The Importance of Being Earnest

March 9-18

Savage Rose Classic Theatre Company
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage at Walden Theater
1134 Payne Street
Louisville, KY
502-599-3011
Savagerose.org

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