by Aloysius Wong
November 20, 2018
Going to the performance on closing night, I had no idea what to expect. I have been impressed by VCDS shows several times before, but this was my first time watching one without knowing anything about it beforehand. Suffice it to say I wasn’t disappointed—from the costumes and the set to the music and the acting, everything came together for a truly beautiful and unforgettable performance of The Importance of Being Earnest.
As soon as the lights came up for the first act, the skill and expertise that went into designing and building the set were evident. Everything denoted late nineteenth century without seeming forced in the slightest; on the contrary, everything was quite unified. The scene began with Jacob Levitt, who played Lane (and later Merriman), preparing the stage for the arrival of a few guests. Accompanied by music from piano, guitar, and clarinet, the audience was immediately transported from Victoria College to the Victorian era, where the play opens in Algernon’s home.
I was instantly impressed by the main characters. Gianni Sallese seamlessly embodied Algernon Moncrieff, complete with the character’s irresponsibility, bold attitude, disregard of boundaries, and ravenous appetite. I pondered long afterwards how he finished that entire tray of cucumber sandwiches—and later, several muffins—while on stage. It must be noted that Gianni also designed the costumes, which helped to contextualize the setting and keep our attention on stage. Sylvia Woolner likewise did a phenomenal job of portraying Jacqueline “Jack” Worthing, a smart, serious woman overburdened with societal obligations. It was wonderful seeing her character develop on stage as she grew in confidence and wit leading up the play’s climax.
The interaction between these two and their love interests, Gwendolen (Carmen Bezner Kerr) and Cecily (Kenley Ferris Ku), developed beautifully over the course of the production. One notable highlight was when Gwendolen and Cecily were asked whether they could love Jack and Algy if they, both pretending to be named Ernest, had any other name but Ernest. The comedic awkwardness of those scenes was priceless, as Gwendolen raved about the thrills and vibrations of the name Ernest, and Cecily replied with: “I might respect you [Algernon], … but I fear that I should not be able to give you my undivided attention.”
Between these key scenes, the supporting roles truly give the play its levity: Lane’s exasperation with his master after his master eats all of the cucumber sandwiches and shifts the blame to him; Lady Bracknell’s (Kara Austria) haughty, meddling, uncompromising attitude and her dislike of education; Merriman’s poor timing; and of course, Miss Prism (Angelli McGuigan) and Reverend Chasuble’s (Leo Morgenstern) not-so-subtle flirtatiousness. All of this rounded out the play and made it memorable. At its core, The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy, and the unexpected comedic inserts were more than welcome.
Props to the musicians—Jacob Levitt, Dante Camrada, Sydney Chiu, and Emily Erhart—the composer, Morgan Wolfe, and lyricist, Jacob Peng, for the soothing music during scene changes. Kudos to the stage hands as well, dressed also in themed garb, for seamless turnarounds between scenes. And of course, many thanks to Rachel Bannerman for delivering such a fine show to the Bader stage. We are earnestly awaiting the next show.