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Actors Strive in 'Earnest' for High Style

Theater review: Only a few of the players in the Golden West College staging seem comfortable in Oscar Wilde's world.

November 13, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," written in 1895, is arguably the best comedy of the past century-and-change, bridging the gap stylistically between Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Joe Orton. It is epigrammatic and brazen, insightful and--no matter how many times one sees it--very, very funny.

Like Sheridan and Orton, it also is high in style. At Golden West College, director Caryn Morse understands that, and her staging is stylish indeed. She has utilized a small space interestingly, her cast savors the epigrams, and most of the rhythms are correct.

But savoring the epigrams and rolling with the rhythms isn't always enough. The care that morse obviously has taken comes to fruition in only some of the performances. Three of the actors are comfortable in Wilde's rarefied style and appear to live in his world. The rest look as though they're wearing the style like an ill-fitting costume.

The most notable performance is that of Andrew Kelsey as Algernon, the London dandy who eschews marriage but jumps at the chance when he meets the country ward of his friend Jack Worthing. Kelsey's laid-back readings and fin de siecle manner are right on target.

*

Very close are Mary Boessow as Algernon's cousin Gwendolyn, who is in love with friend Worthing, and Lauren Lin Taylor as Cecily, the country manor innocent who is not as innocent as she looks. These three steal the show.

As that ogre to end all ogres, Lady Bracknell, Jo Black-Jacob has some excellent moments, wisely steering almost clear of Dame Edith Evans' definitive performance of the role. But the director allows Black-Jacob too many moments that are heavy and cumbersome. As sharp-edged as Bracknell is, she still is part of a high comedy, not "Medea."

Amy E. Herp and Brian Fichtner are way too young for the roles of Cecily's tutor Miss Prism and the befuddled Rev. Chasuble. They don't have the weight for the roles. Furthermore, Herp's stretched-down mouth (to indicate age) and Fichtner's anachronistic Melrose Avenue haircut are distracting.

*

Joseph Tavormina doubles in the roles of Algernon's London butler and Jack's country butler and is very good in both. The central role of Jack Worthing is played by Brian Clark, who warms up to both the manner and style near the end, but for most of the production looks and sounds clunky and uneasy.

* "The Importance of Being Earnest," Stage West, Golden West College, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Nov. 24. $10. (714) 895-8378.

Brian Clark: Jack Worthing

Andrew Kelsey: Algernon Moncrieff

Brian Fichtner: Rev. Canon Chasuble

Joseph Tavormina: Lane/Merriman

Jo Black-Jacob: Lady Bracknell

Mary Boessow: Gwendolyn Fairfax

Lauren Lin Taylor: Cecily Cardew

Amy E. Herp: Miss Prism

A Golden West College Fine and Performing Arts Division production of a comedy by Oscar Wilde, directed by caryn morse. Scenic design: Chuck Davis. Lights: Leslie Barry. Costumes: Susan Babb. Stage manager: Corielle Zambrotta.

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