Reviewed by Rick Busciglio November 19, 2017 (www.njfootlights.net)
Two River Director Michael Cumpsty and company have produced a marvelous, elegant version of Oscar Wilde’s comedy masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest. Billed as A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, it was first performed in London February 1895. It was favorably reviewed by H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. It is a hilarious farce that skewers Britain’s Victorian upper class.
Director Cumpsty has assembled an impressive cast of mostly New York stage and TV pros, supported by absolutely first class sets, lighting, sound and gorgeous costumes.
The cast is led by Sam Lilja as Algernon, Federico Rodriguez as Worthing, Rosa Gilmore as Gwendolen, and Liesel Allen Yeager as Cecily and Randy Danson, (1992 Obie winner) as the formidable Lady Bracknell (photo right).
Supporting cast members are; Mahira Kakar as Miss Prism; Chris Kipiniak as Rev. Canon Chasuble; Henry Vick as Lane, Algenon’s manservant; and Bob Mackasek as Merriman, the butler at the Manor.
The plot centers on John (Jack/Ernest) Worthing played by Federico Rodriguez. He is perfect as Worthing, the wealthy young man who leads a double life. He has a country estate where he leads a respectable life as Jack Worthing. However, in London, he is a bit of a playboy as Ernest Worthing.
Beyond the “pleasures provided by a double life” he has a unique upbringing. It seems he was discovered as an infant in a travelling bag in the ‘lost and found’ room at London’s Victoria train station! He was ‘found’ by a wealthy old man who adopted him as John Worthing and upon his death made Jack guardian to his granddaughter, Cecily Cardew. Liesel Allen Yeager is a proper spunky delight as Cecily.
Meantime, as Ernest, his best friend is Algernon Moncrieff (played spot-on by Sam Lilja) is an idle, amoral bachelor blessed with a position high on the social ladder due in part to his aunt, the highly respected Lady Bracknell (played marvelously by Randy Danson). Algernon is the cousin of Gwendolen (Rosa Gilmore) who has her sights set on Ernest. One major hitch: She could only marry a man named Ernest! Jack is also set on marrying her. A big however, beyond his name, is the hard fact that his pedigree, or lack of, is totally unacceptable to her mother Lady Bracknell (Rosa Gilmore nicely nails the beautiful pretentious maiden Gwendolen).
We learn all this in the first act which is set in Algernon’s flat on Half-Moon Street, W. Unseen is Jack’s flat B4 at the Albany on Piccadilly (We lived in 1993 in E6!)
From there on, it is a joy of witty Wilde dialogue, numerous opportunities for major laughs (and giggles), marvelous eccentric characters, simply put, confusion reigns properly until the final moments. (Spoiler alert: It all ends happily!)
Also, deserving of acknowledgement is the production team: Charlie Corcoran scenic designer; Jess Goldstein costume designer; Yuki Nakase lighting designer; Elisheba Ittoop sound designer; Leah J. Loukas wig designer; Heidi Griffiths and Kate Murray casting; and Rick Steiger production stage manager.
The play has had numerous revivals on Broadway and several films and TV versions, thus you may be familiar with the plot. Please don’t let that stop you from making the trip to the Two River Theater. We have seen it performed in all forms and still found this version totally enjoyable, in fact, It reminds us of a delightful visit with a charming, witty and very elegant maiden aunt (clearly not of the Lady Bracknell variety!).
WHEN: Wednesdays through Sundays, through Dec. 3
WHERE: Two River Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank
TICKETS: $20 to $70
INFO: 732-345-1400 or www.tworivertheater.org
Top Photo: Sam Lilja (Algernon Moncrieff), Liesel Allen Yeager (Cecily Cardew), Rosa Gilmore (Gwendolen) and Federico Rodriguez (John Worthing)
#2 Randy Danson (Lady Bracknell)
#3 Randy Danson (Lady Bracknell), Sam Lilja (Algernon Moncrieff), Henry Vick (Lane), Rosa Gilmore (Gwendolen) and Federico Rodriguez (John Worthing)
#4 Mahira Kakkar (Miss Prism), standing at center, with from left: Federico Rodriguez (John Worthing), Chris Kipiniak (Rev. Canon Chasuble), Rosa Gilmore(Gwendolen) , Sam Lilja (Algernon Moncrieff), Liesel Allen Yeager(Cecily Cardew) and Randy Danson (Lady Bracknell)
#5 Rosa Gilmore (Gwendolen), Bob Mackasek (Merriman) and Liesel Allen Yeager (Cecily Cardew)
All Photos by T. Charles Erickson