Orlando Shakes’ “Importance of Being Earnest” in review


What is it about a man playing a grande dame, especially Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest?” Do we believe that only a man can put on the spelunking gear and plumb the depth of a social snob’s biting comments about life, the universe, and everything? Or perhaps, as suggested in the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre’s production, it is that, underneath it all, Lady Bracknell is no lady.

Indeed, this notion is further insinuated by Philip Nolen, a most talented comic actor known for his ability to wring rim shot timing and pathos into portrayals that hit a Chaplinesque sweet spot. Here, as Lady Bracknell, he brings no pretense of feminine movement, gestures or reactions. Instead, watching his portrayal of her is basically watching a man in a dress. She strides across the floor in full battle regalia — ballooning red dress and black and red hat evocative of some great French admiral. To make sure she has her way, she dips her voice into resonant bass commands.

Throughout, as directed by Jim Helsinger, the pretense of polite society comes into full blossom with a splendid professional cast and a marvelous visuals.

Avery Clark charms as Algernon Moncrieff, the dashing playboy who falls for Cecily Cardew, portrayed to reveal her full measure of silly romanticism by a most engaging Deanna Gibson. Together, they deliver the funniest parts of the production when their own superficiality threatens to end their five-minute old relationship.

Shannon Michael Wamser brings out the serious intent in John “Jack” Worthing, as he courts his love, Gwendolyn Fairfax, daughter of Lady Bracknell. Here, Mindy Anders allows Gwendolyn to reveal now and then, that she will probably grow into a woman much like her mother. You’ll probably never see anyone get the laugh she does simply by uttering the name “Jack.”

This production is also beautifully realized by Jack A. Smith’s costume designs and Bert Scott’s gorgeous scenic designs of a late 19th century London flat and country house garden.

For those who missed Melbourne Civic Theatre’s delightful production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” or the Broadway production (in person or HD broadcast), this is probably your last time (at least this year) to see one of a English theater’s funniest and most savory comedies. This time, it comes courtesy of Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, an Equity theater company an easy hour or so drive away. Just remember, Wilde’s dialogue is so delicious, you may want to see it again.

SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Importance of Being Earnest” runs through Oct. 9 at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando. to . Various curtain times. Call 407-447-1700 or visit

PHOTO:Philip Nolen*, Mindy Anders*, Avery Clark*, Shannon Michael Wamser*, and Deanna Gibson* in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest”, now playing through October 9, 2011. Photo by Tony Firriolo *appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.