South Coast Rep’s revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest is 
a production full of color, imagination, and panache. (Note: For those in need 
of a summary of the oft performed comedy of manners, click here for a 
Wikipedia synopsis.) Director Warner Shook’s original vision for Earnest is evident 
from the moment the audience first sets sight on Michael Olich’s gorgeous non-
literal set design. The Segerstrom Stage is ablaze with rich blue-greens and 
reds, colorful Persian rugs, a handsomely brocaded divan and armchair, and a 
leopard rug center stage, head intact, and not a wall in sight.  Nephelie 
Andoyadis’s costumes are the epitome of elegance, and match the set’s color 
scheme, which by the way changes for each of the play’s three acts.  


We know we are in for something special when, at lights up, we see Algernon 
playing the piano (yes, he’s actually playing it) on an upstage platform which 
revolves, turning into the backdrop of Algernon’s London flat as Algie moves 
downstage and plops himself down on the divan, elegance and panache 

Algernon and his dear friend Earnest aka Jack are about as different as two 
gentlemen can be. Andoyadis costumes the former in vibrant flamboyant 
duds, the latter in sedate cream.  Algie’s hair is long and wavy (as was Wilde’s) 
while Jack’s is cut short and dignified, and he sports a conservative mustache.  
Where Algie’s every move is choreographed to attract attention, Jack’s body 
language is the definition of dignity and restraint.

Director Shook’s inventive touches are everywhere—in the way Algernon slaps 
Jack’s hand when he dares to take one of Gwendolyn’s cucumber 
sandwiches, in the veiled garb of woe Jack wears for his Act 2 entrance, in a 
handshake between Algie and Jack which turns into a death grip, in the 
HUGE slab of cake which Cecily offers Gwendolyn, and in the way that the 
two women and Algie gasp audibly (and with perfect simultaneousness) upon 
hearing Jack’s revelation that “I have no brother Earnest.”  There’s also a 
sensational Act 3 opening with a ukulele-playing Algernon and Jack joined by 
butler and footman to serenade Gwendolyn and Cecily in four-part harmony.  
Oh, and pay attention to the way Cecily bellows back Algie’s words to Lady 
Bracknell as if to a deaf person, simply because Lady B. asked “I beg your 

A running gag is that whenever Algernon’s servant Lane is asked to bring 
something to Jack, a cigarette case for example, he already has it in hand, as 
if having read his master’s mind.  In the same way, rather than go to a 
bookcase and search for the appropriate volume of military records for a 
revelatory Act 3 moment, Algernon conveniently pulls a huge tome from 
under the table behind which he stands, which just happens to be just the 
right volume and then, just when he’s about to reach the pivotal name 
Moncrieff, discovers that he has come to the bottom of the page. Oh, the 

The cast which director Shook has assembled is, to risk hyperbole, sheer 
perfection, beginning with Kandis Chappell’s dryly imperious Lady Bracknell, 
never once giving in to the risky allure of caricature. Michael Gotch’s Algernon 
is the flamboyant and supremely witty Oscar Wilde himself come to life, in a 
more virile and handsome incarnation.  Tommy Schrider is equally good as 
Jack, uptight and reserved where Algernon is exuberant and larger-than-life. 
Christine Marie Brown is a spunky delight as Gwendolyn.  Watch when even 
just saying the name Earnest makes Brown’s Gwendolyn literally vibrate.  Elise 
Hunt’s outwardly sweet and retiring Cecily conceals fires under the surface, 
which nearly get her into a catfight with Gwendolyn. Amelia White, looking 
like a cross between Amzie Strickland and Pert Kelton, is an appropriately 
frazzled Miss Prism, and Richard Doyle’s Reverend Chasuble’s delivery is as 
funny as his Professor Irwin Corey hair. Bryan Vickery, in what would normally be 
a walk-on role as the footman, gets to harmonize with Algie, Jack, and butler 
to ukulele accompaniment here. Finally, milking every moment as both butlers 
(Lane and Merriman) is 35-year South Coast Rep vet John-David Keller.  Where 
Lane is unhurried dignity incarnate, Merriman is never not in a rush, always 
scurrying in as if he had breaking news to report, unable to stand still without 
twitching his legs as if he needed to make an urgent trip to the gentlemen’s 

If clothes make the man (and woman), then Andoyadis’ costumes are a clear 
reflection of this truth, besides being gorgeous visions each and every one. 
Gwendolyn first appears wearing a stunning lime green gown, Lady Bracknell 
garbed in vivid rose and cream.  Not coincidentally, Gwendolyn’s Act 2 gown 
is made in the same rose hues, and we see that she is indeed her mother’s 
daughter.  Cecily, with her long blonde hair and pale blue frock, looks just like 
Alice In Wonderland.

Lap-Chi Chu’s superior lighting design includes a particularly lovely effect in 
Act 2 of the entire stage being bathed in sunlight shining through trees.  The 
uncredited sound design incorporates exaggerated effects, such as a 
deliciously sepulchral doorbell and some over-the-top offstage racket as Jack 
searches for the handbag in which he was discovered as an infant.  Michael 
Roth’s music/musical direction adds yet another special touch to this very 
special production.  

For those in the audience who have seen a production of The Importance Of 
Being Earnest before (and what adult theatergoer hasn’t?), South Coast   
Rep’s revival is certain to enchant. Younger audience members, and there 
were many of them on Sunday, seemed equally as captivated. There may be 
other Earnests on the horizon, but that is no excuse to miss this one, which sets 
the bar very high indeed for future productions.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
–Steven Stanley
February 17, 2008
Photos: Henry DiRocco

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