Vol. 14, No. 23 – Aug 11 – Aug 24, 2021 – A View from House Seats

by Shirley Lorraine

Camarillo Takes Off in Ernest

Camarillo Skyway Playhouse opened its final production in the Camarillo Airport location last Friday, The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.

Ernest has been heralded by theatre afficionados as a “comic masterpiece” since its opening in 1895. Playwright Wilde’s oft-quoted wit and wisdom has weathered well over these many decades. Wilde is at his best here, inventing two English gentlemen who value privilege, pleasure-seeking, and love of extravagance far above responsibility and truthfulness. Both have created elaborate deceptions to try to imbue their lives with a semblance of balance. The result is a joyous, passionate play filled with situational irony.

Director Kimberly Demmary has taken some chances with the direction of this production, many of which work to good advantage. She has kept the period in costuming and setting and cast competent, seasoned actors in the roles. In my opinion, however, the play has been staged almost Keystone Kops style – frantic, loud and with a loss of the subtle humor for which the play is well known. Reactions are melodramatically over the top and, although quite amusing in themselves, diminish the pure wit inherent in the words which were often buried. Blatant mugging in the background by all the actors frequently upstaged the dialogue.

Lead actors Brian Robert Harris as Jack/Ernest, and Patrick T. Rogers as Algernon, speak at such a rapid pace in their British accents that many great lines are either tossed away or were not heard at all. Both terrific actors, I personally was disappointed to see them playing Ernest almost a la Stooges. I half expected a nyuck-nyuck and an eye jab at any moment, particularly during the argumentative scenes, the vocal levels of which echoed in the building. No subtle satire, this.

The ingenues, Maddie Boyd as Gwendolyn and Samantha Netzen Bingham as Cecily , fell into the same trap, covering many pithy lines with both verbal and physical histrionics. Often the next line was delivered before the previous one could be digested. On opening night, quite a few lines simply disappeared. It is hoped that the pacing will smooth out a bit during subsequent performances to allow the audience to fully enjoy Wilde’s witty words.

Theresa Secor as Lady Augusta Bracknell acted with a bit more even pace and meaningful reactions. One scene in act I with her and Harris alone is worth the price of admission. This scene was beautifullyl done.

In smaller but no less important roles, Josh Rubenstein shines in a dual role as the harried butlers Merriman and Lane. Suzanne Tobin brings Miss Prism to life with flair. The reverend Dr. Chasuble is played by Larry Swartz, who makes the most out of his part, and the two together are charming.

It is a delight to see live theater again, even if it works needlessly hard to elicit laughs.

The play runs through August 29. Check www.skywayplayhouse.org for details and stay tuned for news of the company’s new home.

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