reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Civic Theatre opened its production of Oscar Wilde’s clever, but dated, classic piece The Importance of Being Earnest Friday night in The Studio Theatre’s black box space. The smaller scaled production venue works well considering the extremely edited version the company has rendered. Adapting the script from the original 3 act, 3 hour length into a tidy 3 scened 90 minutes was accomplished by director Michael J. Lasley and assistant director Parrish Williams.

Wilde’s original presentation opened in London in 1895 to immediate acclaim. In a time where serious plays abounded, the preposterous farcical plot was truly an unexpected delight, and it became the playwright’s most successful venture.

Gwendolen Fairfax (Carrie A. Schlatter) and John “Ernest” Worthing (Ethan Mathias) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

Civic’s adaptation features all the original characters and unwinds through the core of the original plot without too much confusion. John Worthing, who sometimes uses the name Ernest when it is beneficial, is admirably played by Ethan Mathias, and Bradford Reilly takes the part of Worthing’s friend, Algernon Moncrieff. Mathias is solid in the more grounded role of Worthing, while Reilly plays his character to the broadest limits. It all works and is a nice combination of leads. The other male characters are featured roles with Craig Kemp doing a fine job as the quiet Reverend Chasuble, and Matt Anderson having considerable fun with two butler roles, the surly Lane, and the meekly flighty Merriman.

Cecily Cardew (Sabrina Duprey) and Algernon Moncrieff (Bradford Reilly) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

The two leading female roles go to Carrie Ann Schlatter as Mr. Worthing’s romantic target, Gwendolen Fairfax, and Sabrina Duprey, as the young and quite quixotic object of Mr. Moncrieff’s affections, Cecily Cardew. Ms. Schlatter is always a marvel to watch – her innate skills of timing and characterization are a true pleasure. Ms. Duprey is endearing in her portrayal of Cecily and partners well with Ms. Schlatter and Mr. Reilly.
Vickie Cornelius Phipps adroitly portrays the snobbish Lady Bracknell, and Miki Mathioudakis is quite a serious Miss Prism.

Lady Bracknell (Vickie Cornelius Phipps), Reverend Chasuble (Craig Kemp) and Miss Prism (Miki Mathioudakis) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

The simple set is the work of Ryan Koharchik, and Adrienne Conces’ costumes have just the right period flair. Andrew Elliot’s work with wigs goes unnoticeable, other than the nice decorative touches of beadwork in the designs.

Gwendolen Fairfax (Carrie A. Schlatter), Merriman (Matt Anderson), and Cecily Cardew (Sabrina Duprey) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”.

Bottomline: Civic’s The Importance of Being Earnest is notably light fare, and although the play itself was rather popular in its day, it tends to be a bit less shiny now. Mr. Lasley has assembled a brilliant cast, but to me, the piece lacks the spark which I have grown accustomed to from the Civic’s offerings. I nonetheless expect however that the production may grow as the run progresses.

The Importance of Being Earnest continues at the Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through April 6th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing