BWW Review: The Importance of Being Serious

Oscar wildethe timeless game of is pleasing to the eye; not just because it’s funny, but also because the biting critique of social status and expected behavior is about our current social climate. In the hands of Toro Theater Company, you will laugh, even if you have the distinct impression that the actors themselves may not understand why it is funny.

Realized by Jere Van Patten with the help of a student director, Xiomara Rodriguez, the staging is fresh and vibrant. It is important to use the space so that the blockage does not feel squashed or out of place. The scene at Poston Junior High is small compared to that at Mountain View High School, but Van Patten and Rodriguez use the space to create a sense of privacy, much like in your own living room. The story doesn’t need a lot of frills to be successful and it was nice to see an ensemble that felt home and real. The decorations correspond to the time and transport the public to 1895.

The costumes, designed by Aurélie Flores, are superb. The dress worn by Lady Bracknell in Act 3 is a work of art. I felt like Jack’s suit jackets were a bit big for him and the velvet hat he wears in Act 2 was an interesting choice. I was also impressed with Beth Mosey’s hairstyle and makeup. Each character had a unique hairstyle that matched the period, and all of the actors looked for the role. The costumes, hair and makeup are not something to be taken for granted. If the actors do not look like the role, it is difficult for the audience to engage in the story.

As for the actors, I realize they are kids, but in an effort of constructive criticism to help them improve, I’ll be honest, but fair. I really enjoyed the production and laughed heartily throughout the evening, but it was hard to hear a lot of what was being said because the actors weren’t projecting. Without microphones, it is especially important to project and state your words so that the audience can hear you clearly and understand what you are saying. It’s also important to slow down and deliver your lines at a steady pace, unless otherwise directed by management. There were several times when the actors spoke so quickly that they fumbled their lines. Was he nervous? Was it the excitement of the audience? It could have been a number of things, but it was hard to understand what was being said because it was being said so quickly and got confused. I was also disappointed to miss several lines of dialogue because I was laughing and the actor continued without waiting for the audience to stop laughing. It is important for an actor to learn to fill this space so that the audience has time to laugh and that the actors on stage do not let go of their characters while waiting to resume the show. I’m impressed with the natural stage presence of these actors, and with a few tweaks, they’ll be great performers.

Gordon Badgett plays the main character, John Worthing. Badgett is natural on stage, but it was easy to tell when he was flustered or missed his line. He has great physicality and was easy to hear when projecting. His chemistry with his fellow actors, especially Gwendolen, is genuine. Badgett directs the cast well and sets the tone for the scenes.

Like Algernon Moncrieff, Mitchell Henriksen takes charge and follows. Maybe not because he understands the direction, but he’s been told to move somewhere, so he does. He has good comedic timing, but it was a little hard to figure out with food in his mouth. His scenes with Badgett are particularly good as the two actors can be said to share an offstage camaraderie that performs well on stage. Badgett and Henriksen are worthy rivals and friends.

As one of the love interests and his own wife, Mae Soelberg is fantastic as Gwendolen. Her comedic timing is perfect, and the manners she’s created match the setting and character perfectly. There were times when she was hard to hear, but Soelberg clearly understands why the show is funny and brought a delightful stage presence.

In the 2nd act, we meet Cecily Cardew, played by Sydney Crandall. Crandall plays Miss Cardew’s flippant, flirtatious nature well, but she’s hard to hear. She also speaks very fast, so her lines are difficult to understand. Crandall is charming and shapely, but I wish I could have understood her better.

Lady Bracknell is a great person. She is rich, well educated, and full of opinions that make absolutely no sense. It is hosted by Carolyn Martin who features Lady Bracknell straight and measured. For such a juicy and contradictory role, I would have liked Martin to have a little more fun. Lady Bracknell can be as ridiculous as you want and I think Martin played it safe instead of delving into what’s possible with this character.

The minions in this show are barely seen, but so important to the plot. Like Lane, the butler, Seth Cunningham is funny and his joke with Algernon sets the tone for the whole show. Lane clearly finds his boss insufferable, but handles his tasks competently and with a bit of exasperation. Cunningham was hard to hear, but I appreciated the physical choices he made. Mr. Worthing’s estate maid, Merriman, is played by Autumn Calkins. Calkins is hilarious. She inserts an eye roll or an irritated sigh at all the right times to make her short stint unforgettable.

As Reverend Canon Chasuble, Eli Cox displays a unique energy. His jokes land, but there were times when I felt his lines blurred. Cox has great energy on stage and I enjoyed his characterization, but he was difficult to understand. The same goes for Kate Emerick who plays Miss Prism, Cecily’s housekeeper. Miss Prism is an older woman who is interested in Doctor Chasuble. Emerick dropped the end of his lines, so it was difficult to understand the conversations taking place on stage. Emerick has a very important role and with some projection and focused consideration Emerick would be an unstoppable force.

I can’t go there without a shout out to the stage crew. It is an incredible opportunity for these high school students to gain experience that will accompany them throughout their lives. The stage crew is invisible during production, but without them the show would not take place.

Overall, it’s a wonderful production. I promise you will laugh because the writing and the subject matter is so good. This cast obviously appreciates what they do and I could say that having an audience has made all the difference to them. There is no such thing as the energy supplied by an audience and I hope the hall is full for the performances to come. The importance of being serious until 23 October 2021 at Poston High School. You can buy tickets here.

Photo credit: Allyson Van Patten

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