Finally, Oscar Wilde’s classic farce “The Importance of Being Earnest” has a sequel entitled “The Rewards of Being Frank” with a world premiere at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.
Placed seven years after the end of Ernest, we see the “happily” married couples of Algernon (James Evans) and Cecily (Tora Nogami Alexander) plus Ernest (Jeremy Dubin) and Gwendolyn (Kelly Menghelkoch) feeling unfulfilled and trying to recapture their previous perceived bliss. Overseeing the charade is the formidable Lady Bracknell (Christine Pedi), Gwendolyn’s mother and Algernon’s aunt.
While not always at the level of the master, current playwright Alice Scovell has still imbued her new play with the flavor, wit and panache of Wilde’s original, retaining the triviality of the Victorian upper classes views of life, society and love. At its heart, this is a comedy of Victorian manners and confusion about love and relationships.
The play opens in a London apartment with Cecily and Gwendolyn preparing for the impending interview with their son’s new tutor Frank (Mobuluwaji Ademide Akintilo). They are irked that their husbands are no-shows and we get the first hints that all may not be great in marital paradise. Cecily shows an obsession for cucumber sandwiches which is a running gag throughout the show. Autocratic Lady Bracknell chimes in on her displeasure with the collective behaviors of her family.
Frank, the prospective tutor, lectures the ladies on the need for absolute truth in relationships and decries the “partial” truths which many people tell. While Frank pontificates in the most earnest of fashions, we suspect that he may not be totally truthful either.
The play continues Wilde’s theme of mocking the Victorian Era’s societal views. Other themes include female empowerment, the virtue of “partial truths” and the secret of the cucumber sandwiches.
The set design (Samantha Reno) in the first act reflects the elegance of the wealthy upper class with bookshelves, carpets and period furniture. In the second act, the bookshelves are replaced by flowers and greenery in the country pavilion. The costumes (designed by Rainy Edwards) are period upper class Victorian with suits for the men and elegant, flouncy gowns for the women. Timing is always critical in farce and both the actors and CSC newcomer director Stephen Burdman perform admirably. After the CSC run, the show will move Off-Broadway as a Burdman production at NY Classical Theatre.
As usual, the CSC cast is up to the challenge. All are excellent led by Christine Pedi’s Lady Bricknell who exudes arrogant haughtiness and has some of the best lines. Evans’ silly, bountiful exuberance lights up the stage and Alexander and Mengelkoch bounce between inanity, bewilderment and sudden insight.
Overall this is a good play although I wasn’t sure where it was going after the first act. It helps to be a fan of classical theater comedy and have a passing acquaintance with Wilde’s play although the playwright does try to bring the audience up to speed. The production and acting quality excels.
So, grab your Victorian carriage and trundle down to the Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production off “The Rewards of Being Frank” running through February 18. Get tickets HERE. Their next production is “Taming of the Shrew” running from March 3 through March 25.