Going back to the basics

Many students at St. John’s are used to descending the steps that lead into the Little Theater. But the latest Chappell Players’ production gave audience members a chance to climb a new set of steps: those leading up to the stage.

Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest” was performed March 26 through 28 at the Little Theater.

A three-act play with a small, but colorful, cast, the playbill hails it as a “trivial comedy for serious people.” Jack Worthing (played by Keith Plokhoy) is a man that goes by Jack in the country, but Earnest in town.

When his friend Algernon Moncrieff (Taylor Pedane) forces the truth out of him, Jack finally admits that not only does he have a different name in the country, but a whole different life, including a young ward named Cecily (Katie Morgan). While those in the country believe he has a troublesome younger brother named Earnest, the truth is that Earnest is not real; Jack simply pretends to be Earnest while he is in town.

After proposing to Gwendolyn Fairfax (Jessikah Hackett) the daughter of the intimidating Lady Bracknell (Sarah Derene) – Jack plans to kill off his fake brother. But before he can, Algernon takes it upon himself to pose as the infamous Earnest and meet Cecily. What ensues is comedy at its finest: a mistaking of identities, an unraveling of the past and a catfight between two ladies determined to love a man named Earnest.

Directed by senior Bridget McNeeley, the production utilized a black box theater style that favored simplistic sets and costuming. Upon descending into the Little Theater, audience members were directed down the right aisle and up the steps onto the stage.

The screen typically used for movie showings was pulled down to enclose the theatrical space. Though the arrangement of seats allowed for a limited amount of people, and sometimes a limited view, the black box style was one that really added to the overall experience. Without the distraction of lavish costumes and complicated sets, the audience could give all their attention to Wilde’s sophisticated language and the performers’ portrayals of his characters.

What was most impressive about the production as a whole was the cast. Every character – major and minor – had the audience laughing. The acting chemistry between the two male leads was particularly enjoyable. Plokhoy’s seriously honest Jack paired with Pedane’s happy-go-lucky Algernon never failed to keep the audience laughing, even when they weren’t exchanging lines.

The same could easily be said between the two female leads; when swiftly going from friends to enemies to sisters, Hackett and Morgan were skillful in portraying their drolly fluctuating relationship.

While the Chappell Players have yet to have an unentertaining production this season, “The Importance of Being Earnest” allowed for an enjoyable return to the basic elements of theatre: the writing and the performers.