The importance of Wilde wit

This week local audiences will be able to get fresh insight into the Victorian writer’s popularity.

The Importance of Being Earnest 370 (photo credit: Rafi Poch)
The Importance of Being Earnest 370
(photo credit: Rafi Poch)
The nine-member cast of Oscar Wilde’s satirical The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, opening Thursday night at the AACI, is keeping it simple. Black and white costumes, except for a dashing red bow tie, a plain stage with a few props including stools and a tea set.
Director Sura Shachnovitz says she strove for subtle staging since the actors are performing “in the round,” with the audience surrounding them.
The very clever show, which premiered in London in 1895, includes few stage entrances and exits, so the actors, donning ruffles, extravagant hats and prim and proper suits, are on stage nearly the whole time.
“There’s a lot going on,” says Shachnovitz. “It’s almost like a three-way circus because there’s always something happening.”
Shachnovitz chose the theater-in-the-round style to add a new element of presentation to a play that’s been staged many times.
Wilde’s enduringly amusing script of multi-layered quips and criticisms of breeding, marriage and manners in 19th-century London holds up well under the skillful and sweetly silly performances of the J-Town Playhouse cast.
The classic play tells the story of late-Victorian men – Algernon Moncrieff (Josh Moss) and John “Jack” Worthing (Mory Buckman) – looking to escape their trivial social obligations and burdensome lives, and so as a refuge, they maintain alternate personae in the country.
Their attempts to hide their alter egos and their ultimate undoing, leading to the play’s conclusion that one must not be trivial, of “the vital importance of being earnest,” is the heart of Wilde’s play. Along the way, the response to a marriage proposal is dependent on Jack’s name truly being Ernest – “My ideal has always been to love someone by the name of Ernest.
There is something about that name that inspires absolute confidence,” says Gwendolyn Fairfax (Lianne Ratzersdorfer). The proposal is rejected, though, because of his unconventional background, bei found as a baby in “an ordinary handbag” – not sophisticated enough for Fairfax or her mother Lady Bracknell, hilariously played by Roni Schwartz, who emphasizes to the fullest her snobbish dismissals of those deemed lower than she and insistence on the proper way to do everything, from laughing to proposing.
Playing Cecily, Jack’s precocious and sarcastic ward in the country, was ridiculously fun, says Sarit Brown, 21, of her first starring role.
“I know that Cecily was meant for me. I was meant for Cecily, for sure,” she says, adding that she identifies with her character’s imaginative personality.
Brown, with playful brown eyes and curls down her back, emanating her character’s charm, made aliya at the age of five from Canada, is working toward beginning university studies next year and played a Jet girl in Encore’s recent production of West Side Story.
Ratzersdorfer delivers her lines as the teasing, absurd Gwendolyn spot-on, and with excellent comedic timing.
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing,” Gwendolyn says knowingly.
Sarah Bronson, who plays Cecily’s tutor, Miss Prism, gives a flirtatious performance, and will delight audiences with her exaggerated facial expressions.
Yedidya Fraiman, who plays Lane the sly butler, says he is looking forward to making the audience laugh, especially with his one-line zinger. Fraiman teaches English and civics at a high school near Beit Shemesh.
Moss and Buckman achieve the entertaining dynamic the play demands, as they move around the stage effortlessly engaging in snappy dialogue, nuanced glances and making ridiculous statements like “divorces are made in heaven” and “the amount of women in London who flirt with their husbands is scandalous!” The ensemble plays off each other with grace and impressively mantains British accents (except for Jonathan Cohen, who plays Dr. Chausable and already has an authentic British accent).
Rafi Poch, the play’s producer and founder of the JTown Playhouse at the AACI, says Earnest will be the playhouse’s second production, after the well-received Can I Really Date A Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke, which showed over Passover and again in May, and in which Shachnovitz played the role of the aunt.
This time around Poch recruited the veteran playwright and literary manager, who has a degree in educational theater from Tel Aviv University, to direct.
“It was a beautiful match,” he says.
Earnest runs June 14, June 17, June 19-21 at 8 p.m. at the AACI, 37 Pierre Koenig. For tickets and information call (02) 566-1181