Is it more important to be earnest, or more rewarding to be frank in a relationship?
That is one of the themes of “The Rewards of Being Frank” a sequel to the Oscar Wilde classic comedy of manners, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Written by new playwright Alice Scovell, this witty and sophisticated show premiered this week at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, before it moves onto Off Broadway. The script is well constructed, clever and one Wilde would have enjoyed.
Both “Earnest” fans and those who have never seen the comedy will enjoy the silliness and fabulous performances. Directed by Stephan Burdman, Director of NY Classical Theatre, it moves quickly. The sophisticated wordplay flies by and you wonder if you heard that right–was that a reverence to Julius Caesar? This is a play I would love to see again just to revel in the dialogue.
The show revolves around the couples Algernon and Cecily, Jack and Gwendolyn after seven years of marriage when it is time to find a tutor for their children. Cecily (Tora Nogami Alexander) opens the show delighting and obsessing on cucumber sandwiches, setting the tone for this confection. “Nothing produces appetite as much as idleness.” She has invited Gwendolyn (Kelly Mengelkoch) and Lady Bracknell (THE Christine Pedi) to tea to meet the tutor with their husbands–who do not show up. Lady Bracknell, Gwendolyn’s mother and Algernon’s aunt, is the formidable opinionated character we remember. They even quibble whether the double wedding seven years ago was extravagantly elegant or elegantly extravagant–there is quite a difference.
Cecily confides that her excitement at being married to Algernon has faded over the years, Gwendolyn says “same.” Things are OK, but they just want more, and ask advice from Lady Bracknell who recommends “dream small” and “marry a man who is fat and bald and you won’t be disappointed.” Meanwhile the tutor, Mr. Frank Teacher (Mobuluwaji Ademide Akintilo) arrives and the interview begins. But there are more questions: Where are the boys’ fathers for this interview, do they have the funds to afford a tutor AND season tickets to the theatre, and is this man really a tutor or a gigolo?
When we meet the gentlemen (who are quite practiced at avoiding their wives) Algernon (James Evans) is still narcissistic and selfish but delightful, and Jack (Jeremy Dubin) is also witty and Algernon’s chum. Act Two takes us to their country home, where the ladies explore their sense of being unfulfilled in marriage, the men share that their bank accounts are unfulfilled and Lady Bracknell fills us in on her activities and reminds the women “You must control other people, especially your husbands.”
The show is silly, charming, and full of laughs as it exceeds expectations of a sequel. It captures many of the same qualities of the original, and the amazing cast delivers it professionally. It even ventures into areas Wilde could not in 1895. Evans’ performance is spot on as Algie, and of course Pedi is a “force of nature” in Lady Bracknell, who has quite the character arc. The who ensemble works, each actor excels in timing and comedy.
Costumes (Rainy Edwards) are luscious and with great detail, but I was disappointed by the choice of Lady Bracknell rewearing her city clothes in the country. the scenery (Samantha Reno) and Lighting ( Justen N. Locke) support the action well.
I frankly and earnestly urge you to contact CSC for tickets today. “The Rewards of Frank” runs through February 18.