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Monday, May 13, 2019

Review: Oscar Wilde’s comedy masterpiece ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ a pure delight at Chatham Community Players

L-R: Andrew James Gordon, Crystal Ann Bennett, Susie Spiedel, Peter Newes & Emily Miller (Howard Fisher)


The Chatham Community Players are currently presenting Oscar Wilde’s comedy masterpiece ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. Billed as A Trivial Comedy for Serious People it was first performed in London February 1895. It was favorably reviewed by H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. It is a hilarious farce that skewers Britain’s Victorian upper class. 

Susie Spiedel
The Chatham production as is the Brits love to say, “spot-on.” First… is the wonderful cast led by Peter Newes, Andrew James Gordon,  Crystal Ann Bennett, Emily Miller  and Susie Speidel. Second… is the outstanding black and white stylized set by the multi-talented  Kevern Cameron.  Third…the perfect period costumes by Kai Movsovich. The clever set and first class costumes impressively frame the cast thus adding to the enjoyment. My British- born wife was particularly impressed with the excellent upper-class accents, ‘posh’ if you prefer.

The plot centers on John (Jack/Ernest) Worthing played by Andrew James Gordon. He is perfect as Worthing, the wealthy young man who leads a double life. He has a country estate where he leads a respectable life as Jack Worthing. However, in London, he is a bit of a playboy as Ernest Worthing.

Beyond the “pleasures provided by a double life” he has a unique upbringing. It seems he was discovered as an infant in a travelling bag in the ‘lost and found’ room at London’s Victoria train station! He was ‘found’ by a wealthy old man who adopted him as John Worthing and upon his death made Jack guardian to his granddaughter, Cecily Cardew. Emily Miller is a proper delight as Cecily.

Andrew James Gordon & Peter Newes
Ernest’s best friend is Algernon Moncrieff (played spot-on by Peter Newes) is an idle, amoral bachelor blessed with a position high on the social ladder due in part to his aunt, the highly respected and very snobbish Lady Bracknell (played marvelously by Susie Spiedel). Algernon is the cousin of Gwendolen (Crystal Ann Bennett nicely nails the beautiful pretentious maiden) who has her sights set on Ernest. One major hitch: She could only marry a man named Ernest! Jack is also set on marrying her. A big however, beyond his name, is the hard fact that his pedigree, or lack of, is totally unacceptable to her mother Lady Bracknell. 
We learn all this in the first act which is set in Algernon’s flat on Half-Moon Street, W. Unseen is Jack’s flat B4 at the Albany on Piccadilly (We lived in 1993 in flat E6!)

From there on… it is a joy of witty Wilde dialogue, numerous opportunities for major laughs (and giggles), marvelous eccentric characters, simply put, confusion reigns properly until the final moments when everyone learns ‘the importance of being earnest’ . (Spoiler alert: It all ends happily!)

The excellent supporting players: Lisa Barnett as Cecily’s governess Miss Prism; David Romankow as Rev. Canon Chasuble; Charles Grayson has great fun as both Algenon’s manservant Lane (a major contributor of the first act laughs); and as Merriman, the verry proper butler at the Manor. 

Emily Miller Crystal Ann Bennett
Deserving of special acknowledgement is Director Tom Frascatore and his production team: Producer Joëlle Bochner, Stage Manager Marijah Sroczynski, Assistant Stage Manager Caroline Courtney, Production Coordinator Steffi Denmark, Scenic Designer KC Cameron, Scenic Painting Carol Saso, Costume Designer Kai Movsovic, Lighting Designer Chris Szczerbienski, Props & Decoration Tish Lum & Kate Pierce and original music is composed and performed by the Sound Designer, Joe DeVico.

The play has had numerous revivals on Broadway and several films and tv versions, thus you may be familiar with the plot. Please don’t let that stop you from making the trip to the Chatham Playhouse. We have seen it performed in all forms, and still found this version totally enjoyable, in fact, It reminds us of a delightful visit with a charming, witty and very elegant maiden aunt (clearly not of the Lady Bracknell variety!) 

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio May 12, 2019

Remaining performance dates are May 17, 18 at 8pm and May 19 at 3pm. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior. 

More photos below:





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