Opening Nights: The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

Center House Theatre at Seattle Center, 733-8222, $29. 7:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat. plus weekend matinees. Ends April 13.

In Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy, style largely depends on the way the women are played. The men get plenty of good lines, but it’s the women who deliver Wilde’s most pointed satire: heroine Gwendolen, who says the most subversive things; her mother Lady Bracknell, the carved-in-marble voice of Victorian rectitude; and ingenue Cecily—“the apple-blossom type,” as Wilde once described one of his characters in a different play.

It was refreshing, in Seattle Shakespeare’s distinguished production, to see Kimberly King play Bracknell as something more than a mere bitch (a miscalculation even Judi Dench made in the 2002 film version). She’s even allowed to be charming occasionally; and of course no woman in Victorian London would have gotten anywhere without that skill. Gwendolen is sometimes treated as a sort of Bracknell-in-embryo, but here that foreshadowing comes from Cecily, whom Hana Lass gives an edgier, sharper tongue than usual. She and Emily Grogan as Gwendolen play their Act 2 confrontation a little harshly; for me, the scene’s humor comes from seeing the two chafe against surface propriety as their anger mounts. Raising their voices does put a bit of a brake on the pacing.

It also steals some of the thunder of the broader humor in the act-climax argument between the two friends for whom Gwendolen and Cecily have fallen (under the false assumption that their names are Ernest): Jack (Connor Toms) and Algernon (Quinn Franzen). Both are first-rate, though I like a stuffier Jack and an airier Algy, just for the sake of comic contrast. But Franzen has one distinct advantage in the role: He actually looks quite a bit like a young Wilde, and the character’s function as the playwright’s alter ego was never more delightfully apparent. It made his entrance at the very top of the show a pleasant shock.

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