All Things Entertaining and Cultural
All of the merriment inherent in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is found in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) production of the 1895 play. Jim Helsinger, who directs and plays the formidable Lady Bracknell, aims for breezy laughs. The sets are bright and airy. The actors are mannered, but in a way that makes them seem natural. Erin Partin as Cecily Cardew and Brett Ellis as John Worthing demonstrate this with performances that make the most of every joke or opportunity to provoke a laugh while never seeming stodgy or self-conscious the way the character did in the Walnut production of Wilde’s “The Ideal Husband” this winter. Helsinger and his players know the difference between playing stylishly and “to the house” and becoming caricatures. Ms. Partin’s Cecily is particularly inventive. Partin captures Cecily’s clever irony and is wonderful at broad comedy, e.g. when she shouts her lines at Lady Bracknell because she thinks the gorgon is hard of hearing. Ellis pulls off the trick of being every inch the controlled, disciplined individual John Worthing is while including double takes, line deliveries that show surprise, and pulling off some physical stunts. Helsinger plays Lady Bracknell as what Shaw, or Alan Jay Lerner, would call a “consort battleship.” Large and deep-voiced, with a bosom that is like a well designed prow that cuts its way and claims dominion, Helsinger’s Bracknell is as commanding and intimidating as her ladyship should be. Not that Worthing or his friend, Algernon Moncrief, mind tweaking the lady’s nose every now and then. As a director, Helsinger does emphasize any particular theme. He is content to present an entertainment, and he does so excellently.
(Jim Helsinger as Lady Bracknell)