REVIEW: Footlight Club’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ clever and comedic fun

It’s the age old question:  “What’s in a name?”  Apparently it makes all the difference in the world in Oscar Wilde’s classic play, The Importance of Being Earnest, a high society romantic farcical comedy written twenty years after The Footlight Club was established in 1877.  Full of adages about life and relationships as well as its fair share of ploys, elaborate scheming, love at first sight, and mistaken identity, The Importance of Being Earnest proves that some things are timeless.

The Footlight Club, the oldest running theatre in the nation, boasts renovations that include new seating and more at Eliot Hall.  Directed by David Marino, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest continues at Eliot Hall in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 15.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

It is amazing to see how far theatre has come over the years.  The Importance of Being Earnest is a lighthearted production told in three acts with each act separated by the drop of the stage curtain.  It is refreshing to see this production in vintage form, especially in a day and age where rolling sets and elevated scenery eliminates the need to close the curtain until intermission.

The Footlight Club The Importance of Being Earnest Michael Jay and Frances Price

Michael Jay as Jack and Frances Price as Lady Bracknell Photo credit to Elizabeth Bean/Footlight Club

Zach Best, David Alger, and Cara Guappone’s elegantly-detailed set, which includes a brass chandelier, seemingly expensive wall hangings, and plush furniture, reflect 1895 London, where high society’s seemingly biggest worries are when to dine, when to have tea, and when to go to the club.  However, even in Audrey Stuck-Girard’s regal costumes, the rich nevertheless have their own relatable issues whether it’s over family, love, and happiness.

What keeps Oscar Wilde’s show so relevant is its witty and hilarious script, showing even the simplest things in life can be the most elusive.  Its comic observations about family, love and society can be scathing, but possess a remarkable ring of truth.

The madcap, clever cast has impressive comic timing, especially Bradley Boucher’s knack for physical humor as Algernon Moncrieff.  Back in 2002, Rupert Everett starred as Algernon Moncrieff at age 43 in the film adaptation joined by a stellar cast that included Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson.  At first glance, Bradley Boutcher looked too young to portray the suave and sardonic Algernon, especially as he spends a great deal of the show making quips about life as only a well-experienced individual can.  However, Boutcher’s smug smile and shrewd comic timing gradually won me over despite some misgivings and he became quite a scene stealer.

Footlight Club The Importance of Being Earnest Elizabeth Loranth as Gwendolyn and Michael Jay as Jack Worthing

Elizabeth Loranth as Gwendolyn and Michael Jay as Jack Worthing Photo credit to Matt McKee/Footlight Club

Boutcher as Moncrieff and Michael Jay as excitable and anxious Jack Worthing share an amusing, competitive camaraderie as they attempt to prove one wiser than the other.  It is fun to see two very different personalities collide over something as trivial as muffins.

In an extravagant feathered hat, Frances Price flourishes as outspoken, society-minded Lady Augusta Bracknell.  Price strikes a delicate balance between well intentioned and intrusive, making distinguished Lady Bracknell likable, even when her lips curve into a judgmental frown.

Kevin Brunton’s droll presence as Lane/Merriman enhances each scene while Gabrielle Jaques as seemingly sweet, wide-eyed Cecily and Elizabeth Loranth as elegant Gwendolyn are fascinating to watch as their characters become increasingly more complicated.  Jennifer Bean as quirky, love struck Miss Prism and Tim Joseph as amiable Reverend Chasuble round out this stellar cast and make Earnest much more than a name, indeed.

Footlight Club The Importance of Being Earnest Jennifer Beam as Miss Prism and Tim Joseph as Reverend Chasuble

Jennifer Bean as Miss Prism and Tim Joseph as Reverend Chasuble Photo credit to Elizabeth Bean/Footlight Club

The Footlight Club presents Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 15.  Click here for more information and tickets to Footlight’s Club final show of the season.

REVIEW: Engrossing and unpredictable, Hub Theatre’s ‘The Clearing’ a fierce and resonating historical drama

After venturing to the second star to the right in Hub Theatre’s rollicking Peter Pan musical prequel in Peter and the Starcatcher, Hub Theatre Company of Boston kicked off its seventh season with a fierce and romantic historical drama exploring the aftermath of war and the cost of justice in Helen Edmunson’s The Clearing continuing through Saturday, April 20 at First Church Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. Tickets are available at a pay-what-you-can basis.  The show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information.

Hub Theatre's The Clearing

Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Engrossing and unpredictable, The Clearing reaches deep into the motives of loyalty and questions the very nature of what is right.  Taking place during 17th century Ireland after the Nine Year’s War and directed by Daniel Bourque, The Clearing is a beautiful, forbidden love story in the thick of a tense, tumultuous landscape and a transformative piece addressing issues that resonate in today’s culture.

The Clearing has a small cast and First Church Boston’s intimate setting, without a bad seat, makes it easy to immerse yourself into this compelling fictional tale set in historical times.  The Clearing’s set by Cassie Chapados has a natural, romantic flair, embellished by flowering trees, lamplight, and an open ceiling.  From lace to frill to gold, Erica Desautels and Nancy Ishara’s detailed, coordinated costumes capture the atmosphere of its time while Ian Conway’s impressive sound design helps to maintain the show’s intensity.

Not knowing much about the production prior to entering the theater made the show that much more enjoyable, but should mention the great chemistry between the cast.  Brashani Reece portrays Madeleine Preston, a wide-eyed and bubbly spitfire.  Reece as Madeleine is charismatic, stubborn, and charming, who often cannot see past her own heart.  She shares endearing, playful chemistry with Matthew Zahnzinger as naïve and adoring Robert.  With smiling eyes, Zahnzinger portrays Robert with mix of smugness and gentility and the two of them together make for some of the show’s best moments.  Although The Clearing is not a musical, Reece’s lovely rendition of an Irish lullaby makes for a sweet moment.

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Lily Steven depicts Killaine Farrell, Madeleine’s quiet and humble companion. With a far off gaze and a shy smile, Steven as Killaine draws sympathy in her painful selflessness, always longing to live in the past.  She and Reece have a sisterly connection.

Jeff Gill delivers a chilling, commanding performance as Sir Charles Sturman.  With beady, wrathful eyes, his righteous and brutal practicality is only weakened by an irksome ailment.  Although the entire cast is strong, his domineering presence will keep you transfixed.  Robin Abrahams depicts world-weary Susaneh, her dry humor makes for a few needed laughs in this mostly serious production.

Although Helen Edmunson’s The Clearing could have been heavy handed as it addresses issues such as culture clash and the lingering resentment of post-war politics, but director Daniel Bourque’s delicate balance achieves a fascinating and enlightening day at the theatre.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Tony-nominated historical drama The Clearing through Saturday, April 20 at First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and follow Hub Theatre Company on Facebook for further updates.