By Debra Miller, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent
Philadelphia’s Mauckingbird Theatre Company delivers farce at its finest with a hilarious gender-bent version of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest.” A superb ensemble, brilliantly directed by Founding Artistic Director Peter Reynolds, explodes the conventions of class consciousness, proper etiquette, and social façadism with Mauckingbird’s signature post-gay focus on universal experience through the lens of same-sex romance. In short, there couldn’t be a more perfect pairing than Mauckingbird and Wilde!
The British upper-crust characters are played with panache in consistently well-gauged performances, chock full of comedic flourishes and idiosynchrasies. From lead actors Chancellor Dean and James Ijames as the deceitful dandies Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, to Brent Knobloch and David Hutchison as their petulant and coquettish young loves Gwendolen and Cecily (now boys, but retaining Wilde’s original female names), to Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr. and Mitchell Bloom as the amused and attentive manservants Lane and Merriman, the men in the cast will keep you laughing at their flamboyant aristocratic posturings and romantic machinations.
The three female members of the ensemble turn in equally rollicking characterizations, with Sarah Doherty as the prim and prissy governess Miss Prism and Lindsay Mauck as the Rev. Dr. Chasuble (here a woman)–whose mutual attraction and nervous flirtations unleash their repressed sexuality–and the extraordinary Nancy Boykin as Lady Bracknell, a paragon of laughable imperiousness, snobbery, and intolerance.
Exquisite Victorian-era costumes by Marie Anne Chiment and a rich scenic design by Andrew Laine, which cleverly shifts from drawing room to garden, set the lavish style and elitist mood for the traditional period piece, here given contemporary relevance through the production’s unconventional casting. “The Importance of Being Earnest” runs through Sunday, August 25, at the Off-Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St., Philadelphia. For tickets, call the box office at 215.923.8909, or visit the website at
www.mauckingbird.org. You’ll be glad that you did!