The comedy is classic in ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ at Baltimore Center Stage

With a stellar ensemble, beautiful period costumes, and a snappy take on the original text, this production is earnestly worth seeing.

Wilde’s still got it, hon.

The Importance of Being Earnest remains a staple in the theater landscape for three main reasons: it requires a small cast, the necessary design elements are minimal, and the script is a masterclass in comedy. I’ve seen and read Wilde’s masterpiece of manners more times than I can count, and yet I continue to find myself laughing more and more with each encounter. The production currently playing at Baltimore Center Stage (in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Theater) is no exception.

Paul Deo Jr. (as Jack Worthing), Veronica del Cerro (Gwendolen Fairfax), Alex Manalo (Cecily Cardew), and Dylan Marquis Meyers (Algernon Moncrieff) in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Photo by Michael Henninger.

For those new to Earnest, the play invites us into the ridiculously silly high-society world of good friends Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing. Both men reveal that they have invented fictitious personas that they call upon when they wish to escape the mundane or burdensome obligations that come with their social circles. Jack discloses that he is planning to end his charade so that he can propose to the eligible and socially intellectual Gwendolen Fairfax. He also notes that his creation, a trouble-making younger brother named Ernest, has become of great interest to his ward, the witty and precocious Cecily Cardew. Jack and Algernon both leave to execute their plans for Ernest (Jack to mourn his supposed death and Algernon to arrive at the country house as Ernest looking to be reformed). The remainder of the play is a delightful romp through miscommunications and social improprieties, ending in three happy marriages.

If the opening night crowd is any indication of what it’s typically like to see a production at BCS, I highly recommend everyone get their tickets now. Having experienced this play so many times, I had forgotten just how surprising some of the twists and turns could be for someone new to the piece. Part of what made this production so enjoyable was hearing the visceral reactions of the audience members around me. From audible gasps to the most sincere “aww” when the young lovers professed their affection for one another, it warmed my heart to be in the room while others experienced this play for the first time.

Jenny Koons’ adaptation and direction of Wilde’s unmatched verbal repartee launch the play’s pacing into new territory, sweeping the audience into its whirling waltz of words. The jokes come at you a mile a minute, keeping the audience and the performers on their toes at all times. As Wilde’s original subtitle proclaims, this trivial comedy for serious people delights with each twist and turn of the soap opera dramatics. Koons inserts passages from period etiquette books, giving us a glimpse into the restrictive and ridiculous social rules that these characters were taught to abide by. While these sections do shift the play into a slow motion that I found at odds with Wilde’s breakneck speeds, they were great reminders of the serious nature of social faux pas during the period.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Dylan Marquis Meyers (as Algernon Moncrieff) and Alex Manalo (Cecily Cardew); Susan Lynskey (Miss Prism); Paul Deo Jr. (Jack Worthing) and Dylan Marquis Meyers (Algernon Moncrieff); David Ryan Smith (Lady Bracknell), in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Photos by Michael Henninger.

The camaraderie of this ensemble cast is reason enough to see this production. Paul Deo Jr. and Dylan Marquis Meyers’ chemistry as the brotherly playboy best friends is like lightning in a bottle. Their comedic jabs bounce back and forth like a beautifully choreographed tennis match, moving from intense anger and desperation to the most earnest adoration and appreciation for one another. Veronica del Cerro’s portrayal of the anxious and rebellious socialite Gwendolen Fairfax is picture perfect from her overdramatic shaking during the infamous tea-and-cakes scene to her sisterly embrace of Cecily as they commiserate over their double engagements to fictional Ernests. Alex Manalo’s clever and endearing Cecily shines; her deadpan seriousness while pouring the entire sugar bowl into Gwendolen’s tea had the entire audience in stitches.

Susan Lynskey’s portrayal of Miss Prism is also quite lovely, appropriately timid and easily flustered. Joseph McGranaghan performs triple duty as the dual butlers Lane and Merriman, as well as the upstanding Dr. Chasuble. His quick changes are almost as commendable as his particular care in defining each gentleman through his physical stances and vocal deliveries. The veritable queen of this production, though, is David Ryan Smith as the sharp and ruthlessly honest Lady Bracknell. So often this role can fall into mere camp, but Smith never falls prey to those traps. His characterization is pure pith — owning the stage with every entrance and exit. Imposing and deliciously haughty, Smith’s Bracknell is the embodiment of Wilde’s ingenious sergeant of the social sphere.

The design team smartly lets the wordplay take center stage. Jason Ardizzone-West’s stately scenic design features a pastoral backdrop with an ostentatiously fake door just off-center. With hidden entrances and exits throughout the back wall, the space is not utilized in the way you may originally imagine — lending beautifully to the idea that nothing is truly as it seems on first glance. Hugh Hanson’s costumes are to die for, beautifully crafted and vibrant. Particular attention must be paid to Lady Bracknell’s larger-than-life silhouettes, including her period hats that would fit in nicely at the next Kentucky Derby.

With a stellar ensemble, beautiful period costumes, and a snappy take on the original text, this production is earnestly worth seeing.

Running Time: Two hours including a 15-minute intermission.

The Importance of Being Earnest plays through May 26, 2024, presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Theater at Baltimore Center Stage, Head Theatre, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets ($25–$74, with senior and student discounts available), call the box office at (410) 332-0033, or purchase them online.

The program for The Importance of Being Earnest is available online here.

COVID Safety: Mask-optional performances are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinees, and mask-required performances are on Wednesdays, and Saturday matinees. See Baltimore Center Stage’s COVID-19 Information and Resource Page here.

The Importance of Being Earnest 

Playwright: Oscar Wilde
Adaptor/Director: Jenny Koons

Gwendolen Fairfax: Veronica del Cerro
Jack Worthing: Paul “Paulie” Deo Jr.
Miss Prism: Susan Lynskey
Cecily Cardew: Alex Manalo
Chasuble/Lane/Merriman: Joseph McGranaghan
Algernon Moncrieff: Dylan Marquis Meyers
Lady Bracknell: David Ryan Smith

Associate Director: B Kleymeyer
Scenic Designer: Jason Ardizzone-West
Costume Designer: Hugh Hanson
Wig Designer: Kathy Matthews
Lighting Design: Annmarie Duggan
Sound Designer/Additional Music: Uptownworks
Production Stage Manager: Natalie Hratko
Assistant Stage Manager: Kelly Haywood
Associate Scenic Designers: Emma Antenen, Sean Sanford
Assistant Lighting Designer: Joe Borsch
Assistant Sound Designer: Rebecca Satzberg
Production Assistants: Shaquan Pearson, Cedric Khalil


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