In this excellent production of Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, director Roger DeLaurier rightly focuses on the dazzling wordplay, and the cast delivers the script’s nonstop stream of unforgettable one-liners and comebacks with consummate skill. The heart of Wilde’s distinctive style lies in the rhetorical strategy of ironic moral inversion — the whole range of ways that people enjoy saying “bad” when they mean “good,” and vice versa. Rather than pitting one primary sarcastic character against the rest, Wilde lets the whole cast practice this sophisticated species of indirect communication.
All the main characters in Earnest thus contribute to the show’s seemingly unlimited supply of outrageous exaggerations, inappropriate comparisons, and devastating wisecracks. As John Worthing (Michael Brusasco) drives the plot onward against the strong currents of his pal Algernon Moncrieff (Yusef Seevers), who is full of clever tricks, and his aunt Augusta, Lady Bracknell (Kitty Balay), who stands between Worthing and the object of his affections, Gwendolen Fairfax (Emily Trask). Trask is fetching and splendidly artificial as Gwendolen the city girl, and Katie Fuchs-Wackowski delivers a fine, independent-minded “country” girl in Cecily Cardew.
Any production of Earnest stands or falls on the abilities of the performer who plays Lady Bracknell, who is the greatest comic character in English after Sir John Falstaff. Kitty Balay was born for it; her reactions are pure genius, and her pronouncements are formidably firm in the best Bracknellian manner. At a moment in history when the resources of the English language are subject to daily degradation through unimaginative forms of deceit, it’s a welcome delight to be reminded of the pleasure that can be derived from the art of creative lying.