PORTLAND – Spring is less than two weeks away, and many have begun ticking off the days on the calendar, eager for sunshine and the promise of new beginnings.

Of course, as all of us Irish and Irish at heart know, that also means St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, poised to pay homage to all things green. What better way to welcome both occasions than with a rollicking social satire by an unforgettable Irish writer?

The Good Theater is closing out its eighth season with a vibrant production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

The play was Wilde’s last, and undoubtedly his most known and restaged. That invariably poses the problem of how to keep the production fresh. Also, in an intimate theater, how do you re-create the three distinct settings within the play?

The ever-creative Good Theater, under the direction of Brian P. Allen, finesses its way past both challenges.

Scenic Artist Janet Montgomery has crafted a magical set, with parts that can be turned and rearranged like a puzzle to create the play’s three locations. And her impressionist rendering of the Manor House garden, seen in acts 2 and 3, would make even the most diehard of snow lovers yearn for spring.

The play is set in England during the late Victorian era, and it derives much of its deliciously entertaining humor from the ruling class’ obsession with a person’s name and station and the appearance of propriety and manners.

Allen has cast eight performers who devilishly highlight Wilde’s brazen satirical wit.

Brian Chamberlain and Matthew Delamater play Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing. Both characters have concocted ways to circumvent their societal obligations and expectations. Algernon has an ailing fictitious friend named Bunbury, and Jack lives a dual life in the city and country by pretending to have a younger brother named Earnest.

Both Chamberlain and Delamater deliver lively wordplay and plenty of laughs as their character’s “Bunburying” begins to backfire. And Chamberlain adds impishness to his character, marked by a Cheshire Cat-like grin that’s a delightful cross between bemused and mischievous.

Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell, played by Denise Poirier, is the epitome of the period’s high-society lady. Poirier brings just the right amount of over-the-top comedy to the role and accentuates her character’s societal idiosyncrasies and hypocrisy with a deft delivery of Wilde’s needling witticisms.

Abbie Killeen brings a similar flair to her role as Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Gwendolyn Fairfax. Killeen spices up the role by mimicking some of Poirier’s mannerisms, affirming Algernon’s assertion that “all women become like their mothers.”

Her catfight with Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (Meredith Lamothe) is a dialogue highlight as the two characters verbally slay each other, all the while maintaining manners and propriety.

Kathleen Kimball lends a memorable performance as the somewhat forgetful Miss Prism, as does Glenn Anderson as Miss Prism’s romantic interest, Reverend Chasuble.

Bob McCormack is a scene-stealer in his dual role as servants Lane and Merriman, needing little more than a well-placed look of disgust to send laughter through the audience.

The Good Theater delivers a wonderfully saucy production of Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” that rejuvenates this fun classic and serves as a fitting end to the season.

 

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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