by Elizabeth Jancsy ’18
As the audience adjusted in their seats to find a comfortable position, the lights dimmed and the actors took their places backstage. This was no longer a high school English classroom, but rather a live action lesson in the art of Oscar Wilde in the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theater’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
This past Thursday, September 14, the Gamm Theatre debuted its 33rd season with the opening of one Wilde’s greatest work. The play originally premiered in 1895 in the heart of London and became an instant success. Wilde’s commentary on British society and political issues was seen as brilliantly hilarious and groundbreaking work. It allowed Wilde to make a name for himself in the world of theater.
It is not uncommon to find this play on a class syllabus simply because it was such a revolutionary piece of work for its time. It can be even more common, however, to roll your eyes when you are forced to see an actual production of the play, as productions rarely do the work of Wilde justice. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, it can be hard to recreate a play that has been done so many times, fearing the chance that it is just like every other production done before it. This was not the case for the Gamm Theatre.
The second the first actor spoke, the audience was immediately thrown into the complex and hilarious worlds of Jack Worthing, Cecily Cardew, and Gwendolen Fairfax. The set design for the play was eye catching, realistic, and worked very well for the intimate black box setting that is the Gamm Theatre. No seat is a bad seat as the actors live in the space before you, in a set modeled after a living room in the period of the play.
Another gift of being so close to the actors was the ability to admire the costumes. The details and seams of these jaw-dropping pieces was on full display, as each piece truly lent itself to the time period and the personality of the characters. The character of Lady Bracknell, played by Deb Martin, truly shined in her costume, a metallic blue dress and detailed sun hat. Reflecting the god-like dramatics of her character, Lady Bracknell would not have made sense in a more simple dress like the one Cecily Cardew, played by Alison Russo, wore.
The true scene-stealers were Russo and Nora Eschenheimen, who played Gwendolen Fairfax. Only true professionals can master the witty banter that Wilde created for these two characters and both actresses proved that they were up to the task.
Both women kept the audience on their toes with their quick answers and subtle digs at each other. It is safe to say after witnessing this performance at the Gamm, one can finally understand why this play is regarded as one of the greats.