Los Angeles Theater Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (Theatre Banshee in Burbank)

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by Jason Rohrer on March 20, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


By Los Angeles standards, Theatre Banshee’s The Importance of Being Earnest is pretty good.  It’s a time-tested script; the actors know their lines, the director knows where to find the laughs, and one efficient, mostly lovely set by Arthur MacBride serves as three.  But two of those three settings feature a wide, empty seam running upstage center between a hinged flat and its neighbor, and leave expanses of undecorated wall riddled with bare nails downstage.  Director Sean Branney has built the third-act scene change into a pantomime (by cast members David Pavao and Adrian Black), to the delight of the audience; but still, there’s that big black seam, and those nails.  It’s a fair metaphor for what else is wrong here.  This is the kind of production that gets serious about trivial moments and lets the rest of the show find its own way.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of Theatre Banshee's "The Importance of Being Earnest."A perfect example: the casting of Cameron J. Oro as John, one of two men pretending to be Ernest to get the girl in Oscar Wilde’s romantic comedy.  Mr. Oro is an extremely believable and intelligent actor.  He has a great way with a line.  And he has a wonderful mouth: his diction and dialect place him squarely in place and period (England, 1895).  But his knees, hands, and most especially his eyes place him in quite another locale (U.S., 2013).  To watch this actor bounce and eye-roll on a Victorian set is to recommence the disbelief one has tried to suspend.  Mr. Oro has consistently exhibited anachronistic personal mannerisms in numerous other period Banshee productions in which he has been otherwise quite good.  This makes it difficult to understand his casting in this period piece’s lead role.  The plot, after all, hinges on John’s being credibly earnest enough to warrant the name Ernest.  (As Algernon, John’s rake of a friend, Mr. Oro would have had much more leeway.)  It’s too bad that this talented actor is unable or unwilling to alter his demeanor to suit the part he plays, which would seem to be the job of an actor.  Clearly Sean Branney, who has directed him before, doesn’t mind.  At the same time, Erin Barnes, while appropriately adorable and enthusiastic as Cecily, would look more at home on a Disney Channel comedy than in Victorian Europe.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of Theatre Banshee's "The Importance of Being Earnest."But, again, much of the direction is fine.  The actors have been given a particular note to hit, and they’re all in the same play, to the extent that they are capable; but not all of them have been prepared for the rigors of period performance.  Two of the most convincing actors in this production, Kevin Stidham (Algernon) and Sarah van der Pol (Gwendolen), excel specifically because they have devoted themselves to character work.  They exhibit quietly hilarious control while fully inhabiting roles from an age not their own; Ms. van der Pol mints perhaps the latest great line-reading in this play of famous lines with her delivery of the name “John” as a foul epithet.  One wonders whether it is incidental that both these actors were trained in the UK.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of Theatre Banshee's "The Importance of Being Earnest."However, Andrew Leman went to the University of Illinois, and his work here in the iconic role of Lady Bracknell ably defends the home-grown.  He does not marry himself to any of the deliveries made de rigueur by Dame Edith Evans, but neither does he ignore them.  Instead, he plays a fleshed-out part.  David Carey Foster and Amy Tolsky also perform their business very well, and they’re very funny.  But even the best of these actors sometimes find themselves directed or drawn toward odd spots, usually alone, perhaps to make the most of the lighting by Bosco Flanagan, who does leave one or two actors dark at important moments.  To lose one actor on a small stage may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose more looks like carelessness.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema LA review of Theatre Banshee's "The Importance of Being Earnest."It may be worthwhile to mention by way of comparison that meanwhile, in Pasadena, Impro Theatre offers an alternative to the tired-but-true type of production reviewed above: improvisational actor/writers thoroughly steeped in period decorum bring to life a classic author (currently Jane Austen) without being bound to a script.  Investing fully in craft, these performers by their very irreverence honor the source material with as much exuberance and excellence as can be found in any show in town.

photos by David Robertson

The Importance of Being Earnest
Theatre Banshee in Burbank
scheduled to end on May 5, 2013
for tickets, call818.846.5323 or visit www.theatrebanshee.org

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