Wilde days of yore

The Importance of Being Earnest

There’s no privacy in this drawing room in <span style=The Importance of Being Earnest.">

There’s no privacy in this drawing room in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Rated 4.0

Oscar Wilde’s greatest comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, premiered in 1895. The Woodland Opera House, a beautifully restored California historic landmark, dates from 1896. The remarkable conjunction of script and venue was not lost on savvy director Jack Lynn, who’s mounting a traditional Earnest in a theater that complements the concept.

As each act begins, the velvet curtain rises (something we seldom experience these days) to reveal a different set. The sound effects are live; there’s no recorded music. The elaborate costumes are late Victorian, so check out the ladies’ fancy hats.

The acting style is likewise rooted in the past, before method acting. The performers often face the audience, then “stand and deliver” to accentuate Wilde’s witty, decidedly English dialogue. With a wordplay-driven script like Earnest, that’s exactly where the emphasis should be.

The cast of this high-end community production includes several regional regulars, including Shelly Sandford (as the invincible Lady Bracknell), Jerry Lee (Jack), Chris Quandt (Algernon), and Katherine C. Miller (née Pappa, as Gwendolyn). Surrounding them all is the decorous 1890s ambiance of the Woodland Opera House, which predates motorcars and silent movies.

This production is also a farewell for the dapper Lynn, an octogenarian who’s “retiring” to his native England. We shall miss him.