Classic Wilde in modern times

By Nicole Kobie

Can you imagine audiences watching Dude, Where’s my Car or American Pie a century from now? Somehow, such comedies lack the timelessness of a classic–that, and they’re funny to select audiences.

Those stories just don’t have the shelf-life of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Funny a hundred years ago, it’s still making people laugh out loud now. Currently playing at Fort Calgary’s Burnswest Theatre by Gas and Light Productions, the "trivial comedy for serious people" is likely the best humour-induced workout available in the city.

Earnest tells the story of two men, John and Algernon, who have both fallen in love with two women. Thanks to their constant lying–bunburying, as it’s called–the men are both known to their respective lovers by the name of Ernest. Throw in well-crafted side characters, social commentary and cucumber sandwiches, and naturally hilarity ensues. Earnest is so well written that even limited staging and unprepared actors can’t ruin the experience.

For this play, the limited set and stage actually work rather well. The theatre is small, so even those without front row seats are close to the action.

The actors’ performances range from flawed to perfect. Evan Davies stumbles over Algernon’s speeches and messes up a few lines. Jeremiah Yurk is believable as John, if you can ignore his shiny earring. Both are still enjoyable to watch, though not as crowd pleasing as some of the lesser characters. Elizabeth Greenwood and Jeremy MacKenzie are phenomenal in their respective roles as Miss Prism and her favourite flirtation, Canon Chasuble. Clark Adams is so strange in his role as the house servant, that his mere presence on the stage was enough to send the audience into an uproar of laughter.

Even if all the actors were as charming as Greenwood or as funny as Adams, the best part of the production would still be the story and the writing. By far Wilde’s most famous play, Earnest is hilariously phrased. The inane banter between characters and absolute silliness of the entire premise–especially of a comedy written in 1895–are still enough to create giggles and guffaws in modern audiences.

Even if you’ve seen Earnest staged before, this rendition offers something different. Gas and Light Productions went with the longer, four act version of the play, rather than the more common three act performance. This makes for around four hours of entertainment, which in this case is a blessing rather than a burden.

Rather than squander your few hard-earned dollars on a poorly-written, dully-acted movie, why not actually get your money’s worth, and be entertained?

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