BTG’s “Importance of Being Earnest”, a good version of a great play

Claire Saunders plays Cecily, Harriet Harris plays Lady Bracknell, in “Earnest” from the Berkshire Theater Group, now playing at the Unicorn Theater in Stockbridge. Photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware

The importance of being serious
Berkshire Theater Group
Written by Oscar Wilde, directed by David Auburn

– Yes, I remember the general’s name was Ernest. I knew I had a reason not to like the name.

Only once in Oscar Wilde’s screenplay for the play “The Importance of Being Consistent” is the very pronounced name, Ernest, spelled this particular way, with the “a” in second place. Pronounced identically, the word has a whole new meaning: intensely serious, with serious and sincere intent; the opposite of a joke. In his brightest, most eternal comedy, Wilde played this verbal joke on his audience. He used a man’s name to turn the tide on his characters, fans, and detractors. When he lets Jack use the word instead of the name, he tells Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell and all of us that it is a man’s responsibility to be honest, forthright and honest about his state of mind. and his feelings. For Wilde, it was as close to a confession as he could get about his own life and his love for another man. “I have now realized for the first time in my life,” said Jack in the play’s closing speech, “the importance of being serious. Written in 1894, it will be less than a year before the author publicly fights for his right to love as he chose with the Marquis of Queensbury over the nobleman’s son, “Bosie”.

Claire Saunders as Cecily and Rebecca Brooksher as Gwendolen.
Photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware

This is just one way to understand this play, now on the Unicorn stage in Stockbridge, in the Berkshire Theater Group summer production. It’s a play about couples, and just like in Wilde’s life, the makeup of these couples is constantly changing. The two young women, for example, play much of the second and third acts together, their constant mood changing one of the biggest pieces of comedic writing. They charm each other, then blame each other, then defend themselves, then hate each other. Finally, when each one gets the man she wants, they become dear friends again. And they just met!

Rebecca Brooksher plays the Honorable Gwendolen Fairfax, who wants to marry Jack Worthing, with all the right attitudes for the role. She brings maturity to friendship and a beautiful voice with which to express it. Claire Saunders, as Algernon Moncrieff’s newly beloved Miss Cecily Cardew, uses a teenage girl’s shrill to express herself. Sometimes that vocal timbre is a little too much to bear, and we wonder why she really appeals to immature Algy – or maybe that’s part of the attraction, her seeming youthfulness.

The relationship between Lady Bracknell (Gwendolen’s mother) and everyone else is Wilde’s version of the Marquis’ relationship with him, her son, and the rest of the world. She is the great pronouncer of decisions. His word is law and his laws are exclusively his. In this production, she is played by Harriet Harris. His grandiloquence is brilliant and his few sweet moments are totally disarming. In Harris’ hands, Lady B becomes more honestly human than I’ve ever seen in the role before. Oddly enough, even the way she dresses, brilliantly costumed by Hunter Kaczorowski, helps make her a more human and likeable character. I’m one of those people who loves what Harris can do for a role, but here she’s outdone herself and that’s the main thing that would force me to see the show (not my first time, you see ). As she has before, Harris is making her way through the dominant companies in the area this summer, moving in about a month to the Barrington Stage Company to play Eleanor Roosevelt.

Corinna May as Miss Prism and David Adkins as Reverend Chasuble. Photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware

There is a strange couple in the love mix: Housekeeper Miss Prism and Pastor Chasuble. She is an elderly virgin and he is a devout teetotaler. Played by real-life husband and wife David Adkins and Corinna May, their interaction is quite special, as Chasuble and Prism have a pretty special friendship.

May transforms her character from the stern teacher to the stunned young girl to the trampled, embarrassed and humiliated maid, without blinking. It accompanies the moment and makes it real. She is honest and serious. The same goes for Adkins, who can turn the smoothest line of dialogue and the quietest moment into something relentlessly flirty. Watching these two play their part is a lesson in playing in a scenic partnership. They support each other without showing it.

The two men in the romantic duets are Jack, who claims to be Ernest, played by Mitchell Winner, and Algy, who claims to be Ernest, played by Shawn Fagan. Both men are good in their roles, but not the great romantic figures they could be. Instead, they are ordinary men facing ordinary problems that men must overcome. Neither has a girlfriend who gives them as much attention as they need. Both actors fight for prominence, neither of them winning the battle. On the contrary, Winner combats our image of Jack with his dark bun at the base of the neck that feels almost too contemporary for this late Victorian play.

This is actually a problem with much of this event. Scott Killian’s sound design is too absorbed in late 20th century music; Bill Clarke’s set design is a bit too sparse at the turn of the century, although Daniel J. Kotlowitz’s lighting design helps preserve the sense of the era the room needs. David Auburn’s direction is basic and inconsistent in his styles. He lacks opportunities for physical comedy, and relationships don’t seem quite over. But are relationships ever over? I doubt.

Nowadays, a staging of this play may need to be completely rethought and rethought. Obviously I like the way Wilde wrote it. Nicely, the lines still play as they were intended and nothing can change that. If you like this room, you should definitely see it for the things that are really good in it. If you don’t really know the work, you will come away with a really good idea and an understanding of what was going on in the days of Victoria and her son, who would soon replace her on the throne. You might even leave the theater with a case of “Ah-ha!” on today’s young Royals. It’s just a good play considering a decent cover.

“The Importance of Being Serious” continues at the Unicorn Theater on Route 7 in Stockbridge through July 10. For more information and tickets, call the Berkshire Theater Group at 413-997-4444 or visit BTG website.

About Mary Moser

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