Hedgerow Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest has to overcome one big hurdle: the actors, or rather, their age.
Oscar Wilde constructed one of the most dizzyingly amusing farces ever written. The play’s thorough triviality and lack of respect for its contemporary Victorian morals bristles with wit and clever observations. In most cases, these lines are best delivered with the naiveté and verve of young people.
Wilde’s own script refers several times to the age of Jack (played by Jared Reed) as 29, Cecily (Jessica DalCanton) as 18 (in director Dan Hodge’s production, he ups it to 26 for that line). Algernon (Adam Altman) for reasons of the plot, should be younger than Jack. Gwendolen‘s (Jennifer Summerfield) age should float somewhere in between Cecily’s and Algernon’s.
But more than a decade, and in some cases two, appears to separate these thespians from the characters they portray. Thankfully, their talent mostly overcomes this obstacle, but not without the production spending the first act (the one with some of the best lines) apologizing and tiptoeing its way around it.
Altman’s heavy-handed comedic touch blends remnants of George Costanza with Austin Powers, and Susan Giddings (as Lady Bracknell) delivers the bulk of her delicious lines in a monotone.
The play largely consists of the two bachelors mocking the conventions of marriage while earnestly falling into the very snares of love on which those conventions build. When DalCanton first appears in Act Two, her buoyant energy finally recenters the comedy, and the chemistry between Altman and her sparkles as two thoroughly ridiculous people finally find one another.
Brian McCann’s functional set of panels unfolds to flank a pair of drawing rooms and a courtyard. Hodge’s direction employs some theatrical gestures (mostly from Summerfield and Reed), which appear all the more preposterous given those actors’ ages and otherwise more straightforward delivery of their lines.
I would say Hodge indulged most of this intentionally, crafting this Earnest in the mold and style of comedies that trivialize the everyday habits and occupations of adults (like Seinfeld, The Office, Parks and Recreation).
But Hedgerow must cast this main quartet for the next three years as part of its Core Company Project, a bold endeavor that continues the company’s repertory approach to casting. I hope it pays off a little more in the play selection next time.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Presented through May 27 at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley. Tickets: $20-35. Information: 610-565-4211 or hedgerowtheatre.org