published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Characters brought to life in ‘Importance of Being Earnest’

By Debbie Hale
  • photo
    Algernon (Lebron Lackey) is delighted to learn details of his courtship and engagement with Cecily (Joanna Keeling), whom he has just met, in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” opening tonight on the Chattanooga Theatre Centre MainStage.
    Photo by Alex McMahan

Director Scott Dunlap was able to showcase his creative genius in the refreshing production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opened last weekend on the MainStage of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.

Instead of being set in 1895 Victorian England, this CTC performance is set in the present-day reading room of the Mudie Public Library.

Realizing they are all reading Wilde’s most popular work, 10 strangers assume roles as the reading of the play blossoms into a dramatic interpretation with inventive uses of various articles in the library for props and creative costuming. Acting also as costume and scenic designer, Dunlap infuses an everyday feel into this splendid venture of discovery within the world of Wilde’s witty dialogue.

While they read Wilde’s classic, an additional character adds authenticity to the library stage. No library is complete without the keeper and curator. Stefanie Oppenheimer guards the library and its contents with the convincing charm and grace normally associated with the job.

Lebron Lackey brings Algernon Moncrieff to life with his uncanny ability to capture the character’s underlying unity despite differing attitudes with his friend, John Worthing.

Lackey’s comedic timing is great and exaggerates to perfection the play’s theme, which Wilde himself said was “that we should treat all trivial things in life seriously, and all serious things of life with a sincere and studied triviality.”

Anthony Mrotek makes his CTC debut owning the role of John Worthing. With obvious dramatic skill as the co-protagonist in this adventure of avoidance, Mrotek is very successful in his characterization as this humorous deceptor.

Becki Jordan’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell captures the style and the embodiment of Victorian society and its rules of restraint. Jordan’s delivery of the meticulous language of Wilde’s epigrams and her exaggerated facial expressions gracefully impart Victorian stiffness at its highest.

Two leading ladies, Joanna Key as Gwendolen Fairfax, daughter of judgmental Lady Bracknell, and Joanna Keeling as Cecily Cardew, young ward of Worthing, become audience sweethearts with their respective performances in perfect superficial mode. Key talks and walks the high-society part, while Keeling exhibits youthful energy in her sheltered but equally shallow character.

Karen Henderson plays Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, and making his CTC debut, Jordan Coleman is the Rev. Cannon Chasuble. Henderson and Coleman are quite funny in their constant flirting scenes and their “Mutt and Jeff” musculature.

Thomas White and Tarick Issa play Lane, the manservant, and Merriman, the butler, respectively. Both make their CTC debuts, and both show the importance of body language on the stage.

The character of Gribsby, a solicitor who comes from London to arrest Ernest for his unpaid dining bills, is played by Dunlap.

Without a doubt, Dunlap’s Gribsby will not be soon forgotten.

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