Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Wilde’s ‘Earnest’ wit revisits Green Bay

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It’s fun to be in an audience that gets it – in the case of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” gets the humor of Oscar Wilde as it rolls out subtly, wryly and oh-so-cleverly like waves lapping on a shore.

Such an experience was at hand Saturday night in a full Jean Weidner Theatre as University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance presented Wilde’s 122-year old beauty of a play. Four more performances are set this week.

***

Running time: Two hours, 13 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. March 1-4

Info: weidnercenter.com

***

At Saturday’s performance, most lines drew a response – a chuckle, at minimum – from somebody someplace in the audience.

Being in this lightly bubbling kettle meant that the players were doing their thing well… and that Wilde created frivolous humor for the ages.

No bones about it, the story is ridiculous:

+ A fellow who’s a foundling – discovered in a leather satchel in a London subway station – slides along comfortably amid the British upper crust.

+ He has an identity in the country – Jack – and another identity in town – Earnest.

+ His friend also has made-up facets in his life, notably an invalid best friend in another locale who he can suddenly visit in emergencies (for him to escape an inconvenience).

+ The elite and silly young women the two guys fall for vow to love solely a man named Earnest, period.

+ More weavings in the web come by legal and family threads, such as Jack being ward to the sweetie that his friend falls for and the friend being cousin of Jack’s sweetie, whose mother holds the rule book for all things correct in life (her life, specifically).

Laughs don’t necessarily leap out of that mess, they ooze.

Director John Mariano calls for his student cast to finesse the specifics, and there are plenty along the way. The humor often is a droll line that comes with a nod, a pause, a roll of the eyes, a glance or slight gesture of hand.

The production has a feel of completeness, of careful preparation and delivery.

As the rule-maker, Lady Bracknell, Cherran Dea Rasmovicz takes on the persona of an old lady given to having her way in all things all the time. Rasmovicz, grandly made up and dressed, is particularly specific in her performance. Cracking good, the British say.

Likewise, zip and zing are part of the performances of Andrew Delaurelle as the ever-shifty/lying Jack and Emily Ahrens as Jack’s perky ward, Cecily.

The rest of the cast mines the gold mine of Wilde’s humor with delightful spark.

While the British accents are sometimes hard to catch if a player is not nearby or speaking in an opposite direction, somebody someplace in the audience seems to catch what’s being said.

And Wilde is eminently juicy of wit, like this of Jack and his meeting with the truth:

“It is very painful for me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the first time in my life that I have ever been reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the kind.”

Sheer magic – and this is a good-looking, well-run, bright production.

***

Creative: Playwright – Oscar Wilde; director – John Mariano; scenic designer – Jeffrey Paul Entwistle; costume designer – Cody VonRuden; lighting designer – Jeff Cheesebro; sound designer and technical director – R. Michael Ingraham; dialect coach – Alan Kopischke; assistant technical director – David Cook; production stage manager – Elizabeth Seidl

Cast: Algernon Moncrieff – Joey Prestley; Jack Worthing – Andrew Delaurelle; Gwendolen Fairfax – Andrea Kuhlow; Cecily Cardew – Emily Ahrens; Lady Bracknell – Cherran Dea Rasmovicz; Miss Prism – Guinevere Casper; Canon Chasuble – Evan Ash; Lane/Merriman – Luke Martinez

***

NEXT: “DanceWorks,” April 1-2

VENUE: Jean Weidner Theatre is a fully outfitted black-box space (no adornments; focus on the stage) located in the southeast corner of the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The space is devoted to UWGB Theatre and Dance programs. Entrance is by way of a set of steps in a “L” in a hallway connecting the theater to the outside in one direction and the rest of the large building in the other. The room has height – more than two stories. The audience enters at approximately a second-story level. Viewing is downward, like that of an amphitheater. The performance space is intimate, demanding that the actors be focused on stage, despite being surrounded by prying eyes. While often set up for audience viewing on three sides, the space for “The Importance of Being Earnest” is one set of banked seating. The theater is the smallest of three contained in the Weidner Center.

THE PERSON: Jean Weidner was a psychotherapist and wife of Edward Weidner, founding chancellor of UWGB. The Weidners had four children. Jean Weidner died in 1997. A memorial service was held for her on the stage of the Weidner Center’s main stage amid spectacular set pieces of a touring production of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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