There is a natural connection that takes place between “Being Earnest,” the new full production at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and the original source material from the great Oscar Wilde. In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the Victorian era was wonderful fodder for the mind of Wilde, and in this new incarnation, the mod movement of 1964, with its free love, long hair and unabashed youth smoothly replaces a Victorian era afternoon tea.
Jack Worthing (Hayden Tee) and Algernon Moncrief (Euan Morton) are a couple of swinging guys encompassing England’s premier shopping district, 1960’s Carnaby Street. While Jack takes on the moniker of “Ernest,” a name which allows him to lead a double life, Algernon also has his own little deception going, visiting an imaginary invalid named “Bunbury” in the country whenever he needs a little gallivanting.
Jack has his eye on Algy’s young cousin Gwendolen (Mindy Lym), preparing to propose to her. But before Algernon puts his blessing on the young lovers, he wants to get to the bottom of Jack’s intentional double life. Algernon also has his own intentions, slyly acquiring Jack’s address in the country to meet Jack’s lovely niece Cecily (Riley Krull). In the midst of the gentlemen’s deception, they also have to deal with Gwendolen’s tough-as-nails mother Lady Bracknell (Maureen McVerry), who is not exactly feeling Jack based on his past, a baby who was adopted after being left in a handbag.
What works so well in this new production is how true the show is to the original text, and how the songs really supplement the storyline. It is a whimsical romantic comedy, yet it’s not overtly funny. It is a witty comedy of manners, which certainly provides it shares of laughs and chuckles. And in a well made play style, where plot points jump out of left field, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the action because it’s flying off the stage so fast and furious.
Composers Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska’s songs were effective, relying on sharp and gentle harmonies and lyrics that fall stylistically into the comedy of manners genre. The songs definitely had an understated, yet dazzling quality to them. In the number “Age of Ideals,” Gwendolen and Cecily eloquently share how powerful the name “Ernest” means to them. The number “Old” also featured delightful, sharp melodies and “Go” is a witty lyrical paradise that conjures up the wordplay of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Both Tee and Morton did wonderful work playing a sly narcissism, without isolating themselves into unlikeability. Lym and Krull also captured the essence of Wilde’s idealistic young ladies, and the many faces of actor Brian Herndon’s character work was joyful.
An absolute scene stealer was the comic brilliance of McVerry, who played an exquisite Lady Bracknell. The littlest of moments, whether it be a hilarious facial expression or simply the way her character moved through space was the stuff of solid characterization.
Director Robert Kelley definitely made many wonderful choices with the various touches he placed on the set. The powerful red mod couch or the simple projections worked very well. And the final epilogue was a funny touch. I personally enjoyed the one where the anger of a character was turned into a stellar theatre critic career.
While there may have been a few moments at various times where the action dragged a little, mostly the play moved efficiently. And one of its strengths is its unity, spearheaded by solid musical direction by William Liberatore, Joe Ragey’s ingenious set, and the eye candy of Fumiko Bielefeldt’s Twiggy-like period costumes.
“Being Earnest” works on two levels. As a fan of the original play, it is nice to see a fresh, inventive take on a classic. And if this is one’s first foray into the Wilde world, picking up a copy of the play and going Bunburying will certainly be a treat.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents the world premiere of “Being Earnest”
Music by Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska
Book and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
From the play by Oscar Wilde
The word: A very visually stimulating piece, with fresh musical numbers and story true to Wilde’s original classic.
Stars: 3.5 out of 4
The Mountain ViewCenter for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA94041
Tickets range from $31-$73
For tickets, call (650) 463.1960 or visit the official website