Convincing theatergoers to suspend their disbelief is always a challenge, but the Pendulum Theatre Company had its work particularly cut out for it on a recent Sunday afternoon, when its cast had to convince a small but enthusiastic audience that we had stepped from the desolate and bitterly wind-whipped streets of downtown St. Paul into a blooming country garden. The actors didn’t shrink from their task: they took the stage full-throttle and whipped lines of dialogue back and forth like underhand curveballs. If we weren’t quite catching whiffs of daffodils, we were at least distracted enough to forget that we were sitting on a loading dock shivering in our jackets and scarves.
Staging Oscar Wilde’s classic The Importance of Being Earnest was a good choice for the company’s buoyant cast of players. The plot of the 1895 farce hinges on mistaken identity—specifically, on two men (Ryan Parker Knox and Wade A. Vaughn) inviting their beaus (Corissa White and Jane Froiland) to mistake them both for a man (Earnest) who does not in fact even exist. The ruses are sustained for some time, but inevitably the two men’s sweethearts meet and realize they’ve been deceived. In the play’s climax, the men are confronted and must both think quickly to save their respective romances.
The Importance of Being Earnest, a play written by Oscar Wilde and directed by Craig Johnson. Produced, by the Pendulum Theatre Company, through February 2 at the Loading Dock Theater, 509 Sibley Street, St. Paul. For tickets ($20), call (651) 771-3198.
The play is very funny, and much of the humor comes from Wilde’s skewering of the ways and mores of his contemporaries in the upper echelons of British society. The fact that the production elicited loud and constant laughter from an audience removed from Victorian England in century as well as continent is a tribute to the skill of both Wilde and the Pendulum cast in finding the human universals in a specific setting.
Not that the setting is given short shrift: the actors flaunt their British accents as gleefully as they do their flamboyant costumes. Vaughn prances across the stage like a preening peacock, and Karen Wiese-Thompson—as White’s proper and protective mother—seems to glory in every precisely enunciated syllable of her many bons mots. The production is well-calibrated for Wilde’s style: unapologetically broad, but perfectly precise.
Jay Gabler (email@example.com) writes on the arts. He is assistant editor of the TC Daily Planet.