The Importance of Being Ernest brings laughs to the Guthrie

Emily Beh

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest is the story of two friends, Algernon (Algie) Moncrieff and Jack Worthing, both of whom assume fake identities in order to escape their responsibilities and woo the women they adore. Deemed a trivial comedy for serious people and a literary masterpiece, Wilde’s play is now showing through November eighth at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

Nick Mannell portrays the droll yet dignified Jack Worthing. Some of the most prime scenes of the play are those which involve Jack and Algernon bantering back and forth. Both Mannell and John Skelley (Algernon) interact superbly with each other, especially in the brief interrogation scene in the beginning of the play and also in the segment where Jack holds a heated (and hilarious) argument about muffins with Algernon in his garden.

Despite the fact that she studied at Julliard, Erin Krakow’s performance as Cecily, Jack’s ward and the object of Algie’s affections, was average compared to her fellow cast members. “Her enunciation was very forced, almost as though she were trying too hard,” said Mrs. Brew, whose Acting and 20th Century Drama classes saw the play on a field trip.

Curiously enough, Kris L. Nelson demonstrates top-notch acting talent even though he simply plays the small roles of the butlers, Lane (Act 1) and Merriman (Act 2). Although he only steps on stage a limited number of times, Nelson’s portrayal of these characters adds a powerful yet subtle hint of comedy. His brief interactions with the rest of the cast are joyful in and of themselves, whether he is setting out cucumber sandwiches or being instructed by Cecily to sneak lumps of sugar into Gwendolen’s tea. The rest of the servant characters also do a noteworthy job as set movers, creating the effect that the rooms of the grand homes are being dusted and polished rather than being assembled.

The Guthrie has always done a spectacular job with their set designs. However, the minimalist stage setting in this production doesn’t allow the impact of the visual effect to reach its full potential. Aside from the trademark set pieces, gargantuan blush-pink roses dominating the stage’s edges in Act 2, the stage looked too bare and relatively boring. The ivory walls of Jack’s estate blend with its surroundings, and the limited number of furnishings on stage do a poor job of displaying the lavish and sophisticated style of upper-class England. With such a simple set, the visual is a sub-par one as opposed to the spectacular Eden it could’ve been.

Despite a few faults in certain areas, the overall production was purely delightful and refreshing. Captivating to a variety of audiences, the Guthrie’s interpretation of Wilde’s masterpiece proved to be quite entertaining and artistically crafted. To be earnest, this production is cut above the rest and well worth the trip.