Generally, a theatergoer will take their seat and stare at the set for Act I and wonder, “what’s going to happen.”
Not so for “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Steel Beam Theatre in downtown St. Charles. As the curtain opens – aside from the ochre-wall with a smart Piet Mondrian centered on it, a small stereo cabinet, an easel (one where the audience cannot see what is being painted), and a rug – it’s virtually barren. The first two characters, Algernon (Richard Isemonger) and his butler Lane (Sumeet Chhabra) come in, start the insanely witty banter provided by the immeasurably witty Oscar Wilde and set up the stage for Act I.
A brilliant beginning is provided by director Sean Hargadon. From there, “The Importance of Being Earnest” only went up in directorial style. A decision to set this farce on the edge of the late 1960s (most of the music was mid ’60s with the exception of Act I’s opening with Algernon dropping Deep Purple’s 1968 tune “Hush” onto the turntable) and marry what is delicious dialogue to a time period that is as much a farce as the play itself deserves hearty applause.
Hargadon used a great palette of colors, complementing not only the aforementioned wall and Mondrian, but the essence of the late ’60s. Algernon wears dazzlingly bright shirts; Jack is fashionably bright in blue for Act I and in “mourning” in a stylish gray black for Act II. The women keep up with the men, touting their own brilliant yellows and multi-hued paisleys. And the accessories are fantastic, particularly one in Act II which must be seen.
All the actors deserve bravos. “The Importance of Being Earnest” begins with Algernon and his butler Lane setting the stage, but jump-starts with frenetic action once Jack/Earnest (Josh Radde) enters and continues its dazzling pace. The female counterparts in wit match them barb-by-barb. The outrageous Lady Bracknell (Sarafina Vecchio) pulls no punches with “possible” future son-in-law Jack or her quickly betrothed daughter, Gwendolyn (Julie Bayer).
Act II introduces Jack’s young ward Cecily (Maddy Kelly), who smartly battles line-by-line with Gwendolyn. Adding into the farce as it dives deeper into absurdity are Jean Astin as Miss Prism and R. Scott Purdy as the Rev. Dr. Chasuble.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is a heavily dialogue-driven play. In order for it to successfully move forward, it is integral actors must be in constant movement. Delightful work on everyone’s part and a special nod goes to Jennifer Reeves-Wilson for the choreography.
Kudos also to dialect coach Tracy Adams, for every actor had solid English accents with very little fall-off or exaggeration. Regarding exaggeration, every actor has facial exaggerations not to be missed. The dialogue is funny, but the exaggerations really brought out audience laughter.
My only beef regards sound. The theater’s size is between the “mic or no mic” zone. Having actors mic’d may well be too much, but no mic did leave the audience missing a few lines. While I enjoyed the actors breaking the fourth wall (talking right to the audience), once they pushed away from stage acoustics, there were definite dead spots, in particular downstage right.
Overall, “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Steel Beam Theatre is a superb and stylish romp. Be sure to see it and make it a whole night out. There are plenty of really nice restaurants in the immediate area, as well as … drum roll please … free parking.
For tickets and information, visit https://www.theatreinchicago.com/the-importance-of-being-earnest/9901.