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STAGE BEAT

Romantic And 'Earnest' Wilde

December 12, 1986|DON SHIRLEY

Old Pasadena is charged with youthful energy these days. Its newest theater group, the Pacific Theatre Ensemble, has channeled some of it into a play that was more or less contemporaneous with Pasadena's golden age--Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Unlike the last two "Earnests" I've seen, which were dominated by the older characters, Victor Pappas' version allows no upstaging of the four whippersnappers whose romantic pursuits make up the narrative--and the performances are worthy of such attention.

John DeMita's Algernon is a smarty pants with a perfect crease. He has the complexion of someone who spends his days making quips in drawing rooms, and he delivers those quips impeccably. Joseph Olivieri's Jack is an ideal foil--dark, well-spoken, earnest.

Julia Fletcher's Cecily behaves like a real teen-ager, one who hasn't learned how to edit her emotions in the proper Victorian fashion. She jumps and pouts; on learning Algernon's name, she exclaims "Ugh!" As Gwendolen, Libby Boone is an instructive contrast, carefully calculating her responses. She's fun to watch as she searches for the correct phrases, but she missed a few the other night, tripping over a couple of lines and swallowing a few vital words.

Even the older characters are younger than usual here. Lady Bracknell (Gretchen Oehler, masticating her lines with gusto) appears to be in her 40s, and Algernon's manservant (Bud Leslie) looks no older than 25. When he mentions his marriage to "a young person," the "young" is funnier than the "person."

Lori Martin's and Sarah Zinsser's costumes are faultlessly Victorian, and the Queen herself glares from a portrait at the top of the proscenium. Performances are at Brunswick Court, 20 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, tonight through Sunday at 8 p.m. (213-660-9064).

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