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Dead Writers’ The Importance of Being Earnest Review – A Production that Would Thrill Oscar Wilde

By Amy Munice

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The Importance of Being Earnest has a relatively short run through July 31. The theater was nearly packed at a recent Sunday matinee


Taking not one arrow from his quip-filled quiver, but rather a non-stop barrage of pointed and satirical barbs, Oscar Wilde’s script, The Importance of Being Earnest, takes aim at British hypocrisy, and especially the so-called society set.   All the caricatures that you would expect to see in such a lampoon are there:  a quick-to-flaunt-convention wastral with an especially keen appetite (Algernon Moncrief played by Jack Dryden) and the straight man foil he contrasts to (John Worthing, J.P. played by Sean Magill); a round-eyed ward with a cartoon-character voice (Miss Cecily Cardew played by Megan Delay); an ingénue whose tight corseted finery belies her randy core (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax played by Maeghan Looney); and her haughty overbearing mother a la the Maggie Smith character in Downton Abbey, though clearly Wilde’s Lady Bracknell (played by Mary Anne Bowman) actually came first; among others. 


(left to right) Mary Anne Bowman as Lady Bracknell, Megan Delay as Miss Cecily Cardew, and Sean agill as John Worthing, J.P.


Go to this Dead Writers Theatre Collective mount of The Importance of Being Earnest expecting to laugh out loud—often.  If you think you just aren’t the type of theater goer who belly laughs I dare you to keep it bottled up when Maeghan Looney’s character does her spot-on imitation of the goofy voice that Megan Delay uses to bathe her every word to emphasize the vacuity of her character. 


(left to right) Megan Delay as Miss Cecily Cardew and Maeghan Looney as Hon. Gwendolyn Fairfax Photo: Emma Meyer


You’ll see these two feuding debutantes sitting demurely at high tea where manners demand that in lieu of pulling out the rival’s hair and rolling in a mud fight they both crave, one simply laces the tea cup of her adversary with many extra cubes of sugar and serves her cake instead of bread.


(left to right) Jack Dryden as Algernon Moncrieff and Megan Delay as Miss Cecily Cardew


But it is the ever clever turn of phrase from Wilde’s pen that keeps you grinning. Director Jim Schneider and the entire production team know how to make Wilde’s words totally accessible and easy-to-follow by filling in the script with gestures large and small, and paying attention to how every inch of the stage and moment of the show is used.  It reminds a Chicago theater-goer of the similar genius at work on the stages of Chicago Shakespeare Theater making the Bard sound like the boy next door.


(left to right) Miss Prism (Patti Roeder) & Cecily Cardew (Megan Delay) photo by Emma Meyer


The stellar performances of this cast will especially jump out for anyone who has had the pleasure to see them playing different characters in a prior Dead Writers production.  We had seen Jack Dryden in somewhat similar costume but without the intellectual sizzle of this Algernon character when he played Wilde’s real-life lover in “The Judas Kiss”.  Seeing Megan Delay play prim and proper Lady Windemere who would know she was such a comedienne extraordinaire?  Seeing Mary Anne Bowman play more backdrop roles before who would have pictured her Lady Bracknell’s presence so able to dominate the action and the stage?   And more—all—this is well-rehearsed outstanding acting.


(left to right) Jack Worthing (Sean Magill) & Algernon Moncrief (Jack Dryden) photo by Emma Meyer


Obviously, Director Jim Schneider knows the talent he has before him and how to let it shine when aided with extraordinary costumes (Costume Designer: Patti Roeder), and lovely touches like frozen poses at the start of each act that allow you to take in the period set design (Read more about the unusual Set design:  Eric Luchen – here.)


In Wilde's time, theaters promoted themselved by inviting artists to create play-at-home play recreations like this one. A charming touch in this production is the freeze of actors at the begining of each act in situ-- reminding of these play theaters


A pop out card of Wilde's time that inspired the set design


The Importance of Being Earnest, highly recommended, runs until July 31.


Athenaeum Theatre

2936 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657


For tickets or information visit the Dead Writers Theatre Collective website, or contact the Athenaeum box office online or call  773 935 6875.


Photos courtesy of Dead Writers Theatre Collective

Published on Jul 05, 2016

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