A Wilde night under the stars

The Los Gatos Shakespeare Festival is underway!  The Importance of Being Earnest got a great review from John Angell Grant from the San Jose Mercury News…

Festival Theatre Ensemble is one of the best outdoor summer repertory theater groups in the Bay Area. We are lucky to have them currently performing in Menlo Park, under the stars on the lawn of Mid-Peninsula High School, as they have done for nine years. This past weekend the troupe opened an entertaining production of Oscar Wilde’s great comedy of manners, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Here in Belle Époque London, an idle young man of independent means invents an imaginary brother, named Ernest, in order to have an excuse to visit the city from the country. When two attractive young women soon fall in love with different men that they each erroneously believe to be the imaginary brother Ernest, the story suddenly becomes very complicated.

In Wilde’s satire on the foibles of romance, men and women fall in love quickly. Their imaginations construct for them whatever missing gaps they need filled in to make the romance work. That speed and self-absorption, says Wilde, are the keys to romantic love.

“Earnest” contains many story reversals. The socially proper man with the invented brother, for example, turns out to have begun life as an orphan in a handbag found in the cloakroom at Victoria Station. This interferes with his ability to marry into good society. Pedigree is important to this affluent class of society where lazy people don’t work and spend time hanging out, and in which smoking is considered an occupation.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a witty parable on how we build our social lives on a fabric of not just illusion, but of little white lies. Out of the lies’ ensuing conflicts comes comedy. In director Rachel Bakker’s enjoyable production all the actors offer thoughtful performances, including plenty of double takes, silly walks and screwed- up faces.

James Tate is amusing as Jack Worthing (or “Earnest” Worthing, depending on whether he’s in town or country), chafing under the grilling over his pedigree by supercilious potential mother-in-law Lady Bracknell (an entertaining Leslie Newport).

Jonathan Murphy offers a strong foil as Jack’s buddy Algernon, as the two guys debate love, romance, paradoxical social propriety, relatives, idleness and fun. As a pair of young woman on the make, Cindy Powell (as Cecily) and Sara Trupski (as Gwendolen) also acquit themselves well.

Here is the moral of this story: that we are all in a light-footed emotional dance with reality. The lucky ones are those spirits fortunate enough to have a good time doing it.

Thanks John!  Come and see the show…and Taming of the Shrew…and Treasure Island too!

Image by Amy Goldsmith

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