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The Importance of Being Earnest at Artists Repertory Theater

When you get the assignment to see a work that’s been done so many times before – countless times on the stage and three times on the screen – you may have a tendency to roll your eyes a bit and wonder what could possibly be new in this latest iteration.

Well, for one, this one is played by an all-women cast.

I did what all non-self-respecting journalists do nowadays when they need to discover something, I Googled “The Importance of Being Earnest all-female cast.” After a few pages of searching, might this actually be new after all? A first, perhaps?

After all, the satirical nature of the play led to major male actors playing characters such as Lady Bracknell dressed in drag, so why not – proverbially – flip the script a little bit?

If it’s good for Geoffrey Rush, certainly it’s okay for Artist Repertory Theater’s Resident Artist Linda Alper, a true talent, with far too many accolades to her name to mention here.

Held downstairs in one of two of Artist Repertory Theater’s intimate boxes, the intimate setting allows for simple staging design – per usual – dominated by the performances of everyone involved.

And, to be frank, these are certainly dominating performances. You can always tell when someone is having fun at their job and these ladies seem to be having a blast.

About The Importance of Being Earnest at Artists Repertory Theater

Importance of being earnest Portland Oregon

Neither Earnest, yet always earnest, Jamie M. Rea, who plays the Jack Worthing, snaps at those lapels as though they had been draped on her shoulder since birth. With a ton of credits, including some awarded performances to her name, Rea is simply brilliant.

Yet to point there is to counterpoint, and here Ayanna Berkshire provides that. Playing the everyman’s lady’s man, Algernon Moncrieff, Berkshire offers up the other side to a quite an earnest coin.

To be earnest, you are merely showing an intense sincerity or conviction. Though his (hers?) may be of a different stripe, Moncrieff is certainly if nothing else but quite earnest in conviction in his near constant pursuits of young Gwendolyn Fairfax, played capably by Kailey Rhodes, in her first role at Artist’s Rep.

Other Artist’s Rep stalwarts like Joann Johnson add even more flair, as each character is signified as much by word usage as by tonality and facial expression. By the end of the play, you’ll forget you just watched a group of actresses perform it.

Utilizing an all-female cast for a work like this works very well.

Although this work never does take itself too seriously, director Michael Mendelson – himself usually on-stage playing roles – infuses it with enough theatrical side glances, that he is able pull off a heavily satirical play while still delivering a healthy dose of something for the audience to leave thinking about. Poking fun at a societal “norm” still brings light to it, after all, even if they are norms based on a time so long ago.

Interesting how history replays itself in varying ways, is it not?

Born in the mid-1850s, Wilde grew up writing plays as a new social movement was taking place. This, the time when the idea of a “New Woman” was infusing itself into post-Victorian-era thinking, Wilde himself was preparing to tear at the fabric Victorian society by both shining a light into its deepest secrets, reveling in them, and yet mocking them for it.

And the people loved it.

Importance Of Being Earnest

Opened on February 14, 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest was a huge success. Already known as a brilliant playwright, this work only enhanced his reputation. The show was a sell-out and reviews were off-the-charts, likely one of the largest driving factors behind its success today.

Utilizing an all-female cast to give it an added edge, something extra and unexpected, was just as brilliant a move as writing the play was in the first place.

Unfortunately, you don’t have much time left to take in this unique adaptation of a lauded classic. The Importance of Being Earnest is playing from now through the 11th at Artist’s Repertory Theater in Downtown Portland. Visit their website here for show times and more information. This is one clever adaptation you won’t want to miss out on.

William BessettePDX People Contributor

William BessetteWilliam Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures

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