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'The Importance of Being Earnest' [Review]

Hudson Warehouse brings Oscar Wilde’s sparkling comedy to life in Riverside Park.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is a play about acting and the roles people invent for themselves using only their words. With little set or theatrical effects required, it is a show that stands on the wittiness of its writing and the strength of its performers, and as such is a perfect choice for an outdoor performance. In their outdoor home at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park, Hudson Warehouse has put on a play that will make you laugh out loud at the most absurd wordplay Wilde could come up with. Even its title, after all, is one big pun.

Being Earnest/Ernest, a Brief Explanation

The play tells the story of Jack Worthing, a man who was once abandoned as a baby and has risen to high society by inventing for himself the alternate identity of "Ernest." In the city, Ernest Worthing is an eligible young bachelor; in the country, he is Uncle Jack's wicked brother whom none of his associates have ever met. Jack/Ernest has fallen in love with the charmingly superficial Gwendolen Fairfax, but her mother will never approve of her marrying a man of such uncertain parentage. Jack decides to give up his double life, but before he can do so, his friend and Gwendolen's cousin Algernon Moncrieff assumes the identity of Jack's "brother Ernest" to woo his pretty and very wealthy ward, Cecily.

In quick succession, all of the interested parties turn up at Jack's estate, where Cecily is staying. Gwendolen and Cecily have both declared their loves for "Ernest," in fact one for Jack and one for Algernon. Both men are desperate to become Ernest while being the opposite of earnest, to win the affections of their women. Hijinks abound, and with the sharp wit and criticisms of the upper class that make Wilde's writing so unique, the pair of lovers desperately try to maintain the attentions of those they love.

A Strong Performance

The cast, directed by Nicholas Martin-Smith, is uniformly strong when it comes to portraying a sincere concern for the most absurd of situations, which is vital for the play to succeed. The duos of George K. Wells (Jack) and Jonathan William Minton (Algernon) and of Amber Bogdewiecz (Gwendolen) and Patrina Caruana (Cecily) are particularly entertaining, and the scenes with just the two men or the two women are some of the strongest in the play. Linus Gelber thrilled the audience with his cross-dressed performance as Gwendolen's mother, Lady Augusta, and the romance between the governess Miss Prism (Karen Eterovich) and Reverend Canon Chasuble (David Palmer Brown) adds a delightful little subplot to the play.

Simple but Polished Production

To account for the massive increase in audience size from when we covered their performance of King John, Hudson Warehouse has added microphones and a few low-budget speakers in the seating area. Unfortunately, the technology ends up distorting the voices of the actors and creating an artificial sound at odds with the otherwise engaging performance. Still, it does work as a solution to the volume issue, provided you aren't sitting near a small child talking to their parents at full volume--this is, after all, a family friendly event.

Another highlight of the performance is the beautifully intricate costumes, designed by Emily Rose Parman, which draw you into the era of the play as much as the text does. The small, simple set of a few tables and chairs effectively carries the idea of a sitting room or garden, especially when paired with the backdrop of Riverside Park. Even the few props such as the tea set are used to great effect, whether it was Cecily's dropping huge spoonfuls of sugar into Gwendolen's tea or Algernon spitefully consuming all of the muffins as fast as he can.

Ultimately, The Importance of Being Earnest is a fun, charming and completely absurd little show, and the cast of Hudson Warehouse's production pulls it off brilliantly. The play runs one more weekend, July 24-27 at 6:30pm, and then next month's production of The Winter's Tale begins. For more information, check out their website.

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