I have been itching to catch more live theatre from various places…or maybe it was something I caught from that bum I cuddled with a few weeks ago. Either way, when a friend told me he was cast in the Town and Gown Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, I rounded up a few of my fellow thespians and headed to Stillwater. It’s a tale of lies, love at first sight, mistaken identities, a lost baby, and muffin fights. Written by Oscar Wilde, it is considered one of his most popular works.
Let me start by saying, out of all fairness, that we were late getting there due to a mischievous GPS, whose voice took on that of Batman’s Harley Quinn and lead us out into the woods to kill us. Okay, the last part didn’t happen, but when I get lost, I get stressed and my imagination runs wild. Point is, we were around 20 minutes late.
Once the effects of our tardiness had been snuffed out, I immediately found myself engaged with actor Nicholas Sumpter, who was onstage as “Algy” and actress Anna Davis as “Lady Bracknell.” They were at the scene just before “Jack” is interviewed by Lady Bracknell. Now, some may say that I am biased in reviewing a friend’s performance. Let me assure you, I have written critical reviews of friends before and perhaps am more so. My true friends and those who are looking to be at their best seem to appreciate it, whether they agree with me or not. So let’s start with Sumpter.
In the past, I have found Sumpter’s performances rather repetitive sometimes…also over-responsive to the cast around him. Here, I found him taking more creative choices and his response to fellow actors seemed far more focused. I would easily say it was one of his better roles, providing a mostly carefree delivery that made him likeable despite his devious deeds. Yep…that pretty much sums up my friendship with Sumpter, too.
Another bright performance came from Algy’s love interests, Cecily (played by adorable Carley Dickey). Dickey was sharp and alive. She and Sumpter fed off of each other perfectly. It has always been said that it takes someone gifted to play a naive, slow, or simple character well. Dickey certainly supported that theory as her voice and movement appeared quite intentional and professional.
The cast also included Kimberly Beilfuss as Gwendolyn. My first thoughts were that Beilfuss had a great face for the stage. She was pretty and lighting is her friend. She reminded me of an old Gaslight Theatre actress, Sarah Babcock, in that way. Her performance provided a great contrast to the bubbly Dickey; strong and mature, but still lively.
The dual couple was rounded out by the true lead and cause of all the trouble in the play, “Jack.” The role was handled by Hunter Akin, a young and good-looking actor who offered a great use of “brow.” (Think Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Akin did a fine job, but felt like a high school actor in comparison to the other leads. He did not always commit to his actions…much the same way Seth McFarland doesn’t commit to coherent storylines in Family Guy. (Come on! Who else could make a Family Guy reference in a review about The Importance of Being Earnest?) Once he stops questioning his instincts, I think he’ll get even better.
The remainder of the cast seemed appropriate and there was no one that, at the very least, didn’t do their job. The set was basic, but effective. The show was directed by Sarah DeYong, who created a competent production . I think I would be intimidated blocking in a “Theatre in the round” setting, but almost every scene was a picture from where I was sitting.
I recall looking around the audience at several moments and there were permanent smiles sprinkled over. To me, that reads as a sign of the heart of the show; that in their comedy they provided performances of great earnest. … … …*sigh* Look, I tried okay! I don’t see you coming up with anything punnier. Stupid readers…always judging me…for judging others. I’m outta here.
(A man who knows a little something about name changes)