Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Importance of Being Earnest
Also see Mary's review of Measure for Measure: The Immersive Experience
Oscar Wilde's 1895 farce, The Importance of Being Earnest, offers a lighthearted send-up of Victorian manners. While times have changed, its appeal today lies in its witty dialogue and ridiculous plot contrivances. While manners may have changed, human nature is still much the same.
Each of Wilde's bachelor protagonists, Algernon and John, engages in creative deceit in order to avoid tedious social obligations. Algernon, a bon vivant who lives in the city, has invented an invalid friend in the countryside, Mr. Bunbury, whose delicate health requires his frequent assistance. John, the more responsible of the two, maintains a semblance of maturity as he watches over his ward Cecily at his country estate, but invents an irresponsible city-dwelling younger brother named Ernest, whose frequent escapades require John to travel to the city, where John is then free to dispense with propriety and indulge in his own escapades.
While John is smitten with the sophisticated Gwendolen, and Algernon falls for young Cecily, both ladies are exceedingly choosy about their future mates, each insisting that she can only be married to a man named Ernest. Enter the highly opinionated Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen's mother and a force to be reckoned with. After interrogating John about the minute details of his life, Lady Bracknell refuses to approve him as a suitor for Gwendolen when she learns that, as a baby, he was found abandoned in a handbag at Victorian station. John and Algernon must each contrive a way to meet the exacting requirements of the women who control their romantic futures. And the mystery of the handbag, of course, is eventually solved.
A comedy of manners needs a brisk pace and meticulous timing from the actors, and, in a recent production at Nevada Conservatory Theatre, director J.R. Sullivan succeeded on both counts. In a mixed cast of students and professionals, all of the actors had fine stage presence and brought a suitably light touch to the material. A few of the students betrayed their inexperience, but most performed at or near professional level.
As the formidable Lady Bracknell, professional actress Laura Gordon was clearly the most experienced performer in the cast. She hit all the right notes, and wore her sumptuous costumes as though she were to the manor born. In a spirited performance by Alexandra Ralph, Gwendolen was clearly her mother's daughter; her nineteenth century feminine affectations only thinly disguised her steely determination. The first meeting between Gwendolen and Cecily (nicely played by Sarah Rice), in which instant friendship subtly morphs into full-on rivalry, was a high point of the evening. Brandon Dawson ably captured the two sides of the semi-responsible John, while Asheton Stoever pushed Algernon's dandy-ism just a bit too far.
Hailey Eakle's costumes captured the period well, and Jesse Soper's set design, while not elaborate, was pleasing to the eye.
Although The Importance of Being Earnest completed its run October 7, 2018, the Nevada Conservatory Theatre continues its 2018-19 season with The Crucible October 19-28 in the Black Box Theatre, followed by Love's Labour's Lost, November 30 - December 9 in the Judy Bayley Theatre. Both theatres are located on the UNLV campus, 4505 Maryland Parkway S., Las Vegas NV. For tickets and further information, go to www.unlv.edu/nct.