What’s in a name? Well, to Gwendolen Fairfax, whose “ideal has always been to love someone of the name Earnest,” it means just about everything, so much so that her beau Earnest Worthing dare not let it slip that “Earnest” is merely a moniker he assumes when in big city London, his real name Jack being reserved for the rest of his life in the Hertfordshire countryside.

Any theater buff worth his or her salt can surely tell you that the “Earnest” in question is but one of two bogus “Earnests” in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest, now getting a dandy revival at North Hollywood’s Theatre Banshee under the assured direction of Sean Branney.


Jack aka “Earnest” (Cameron J. Oro) is not the only young gentleman leading une double vie in Wilde’s classic romcom of manners. Just as Jack has concocted a wicked “brother” whose jams offer the straighter-laced sibling an excuse to visit London, his best chum Algernon Moncrieff (Kevin Stidham) has fabricated an invalid friend named “Bunbury,” to whose aid he must rush whenever he feels the urge to escape from yet another tiresome evening with boring relations.

gentlemen-L As “Earnest,” Jack has fallen in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Sarah van der Pol), whose mother Lady Augusta Bracknell (Andrew Leman) approves of the young man’s occupation (smoking) and his fortune (considerable), but nixes any matrimony when she learns that “Earnest” started life as a foundling, abandoned in a handbag in Victoria Station and raised without the slightest knowledge of his parentage.

Meanwhile, talk of Jack’s young ward Cecily Cardew (Erin Barnes) piques Algernon’s curiosity, and he travels out to the countryside to meet the fair maiden, introducing himself to her as the ne’er-do-well “Earnest” visited so frequently by her guardian in big, bad London.

Complications ensue when who should arrive but Jack in black, ostensibly in mourning for his wicked brother, dead of “a severe chill,” until forced to accept the “reality” that “Earnest” is as hale-and-hearty as can be when Cecily shows up with Algernon, whom she believes to be said “Earnest,” and whose proposal of marriage she accepts on the spot. And lest anyone think this to be a spur-of-the-moment impulse on either of their parts, Cecily has a journal in which she has been waxing poetic for the past several months about her romance with “Earnest,” his proposal, a lovers’ spiff that split them briefly, and their blissful reconciliation. It hardly matters that said diary is entirely a figment of Cecily’s imagination, she has written proof that her relationship with “Earnest” is one of long standing.

chasuble-L Before long, Gwendolen too has arrived chez Cecily, giving us two young Englishwomen with suitors named “Earnest” and two young men in need of being rechristened asap in order to fulfill their beloveds’ prerequisites for marriage, a baptism country rector Reverend Chasuble (David Carey Foster) is more than happy to conduct so long as it doesn’t keep him away too long from Cecily’s governess Miss Laetitia Prism (Amy Tolsky), on whom he is smitten.

As Shakespeare put it (though not nearly as wittily as Wilde surely would have), “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

And speaking of wit, has ever a playwright written more outrageously clever dialog than Oscar Wilde, the original master of witty one-liners? Take for instance, Lady Bracknell’s remark that ““To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” or her advice that “No woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating.” Then there’s Algernon’s observation that “the only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her if she is pretty, and to someone else if she is plain.” One-hundred-eighteen years old these one-liners may be, but they are as fresh and amusing as ever.

In fact, as performed by an all-around splendid cast at Theatre Banshee, The Importance Of Being Earnest seems not to have aged a day.

A delightfully debonair Oro as Jack and a dashingly dry Stidham as Algernon make for a marvelously matched pair of London lads. As the young ladies who have caught their eyes, van der Pol gives Gwendolen a wry sparkle while Barnes’ Cecily couldn’t be more adorably effervescent. It’s hard to imagine L.A. theater without Tolsky or Foster, seasoned pros who sparkling performances make the over-40 romance between Miss Prism’s and Reverend Chasuble every bit as charming as their younger counterparts’. As butlers Lane and Merriman, Adrian Black and David Pavao give Upstairs Downstairs’ Hudson and Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson a run for their pounds and pence. Finally, in the grand tradition of men who’ve put on makeup and a dress to play Lady Bracknell (most recently Brian Bedford in the 2011 Broadway revival), Leman may be one of the very best and funniest, a battleship in satin and lace with facial reactions that generate nearly as many laughs as the classic witticisms Wilde has given him/her to say.

auntaugusta-L Costume designer Michèle Young’s finely detailed period suits and gowns are some of her best creations, and look even better under Bosco Flanagan’s expert lighting design. Pavao and Wendy Macmillan score top marks for their props, including requisite tea sets, cucumber sandwiches, and fans. Best of all in Theatre Banshee’s first-rate design package is Arthur MacBride’s ingenious scenic design, one which appears deceptively simple at first glance (albeit with requisite elegance “on a budget”), but which morphs during intermission from Algernon’s London flat to Jack’s country house garden, and later, in a precision ballet that inspired four bursts of applause at the performance reviewed, from garden to Jack’s manor house thanks to butlers Black and Pavao, the duo working earnestly around a frozen pair of fighting Earnests.

The Importance Of Being Earnest is produced by Leslie Baldwin, Branney, and Leman. Samantha Franco is stage manager, Dan Conroy technical director, and Caroline Morgan and Shelly Bates assistant stage managers.

Though the characters in Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece live in a world without cars, telephones, and radios, let alone TV, the Internet, and social media, there’s not a moment of The Importance Of Being Earnest that feels stale or dated. Those in doubt need only head over to Theatre Banshee for proof positive that Earnest is alive and well and thriving in beautiful downtown Burbank.

The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia in Burbank.

Photos: David Robertson

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