One of the best things about live theater is when there is a magic so strong that it seems to make birds sing and trees shimmer in a night time light.
That’s the best way I can describe "The Importance of Being Earnest," which opened under a beautiful summer sky Saturday night at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green and runs sporadically throughout the rest of the summer.
To say that this play is a chestnut does a disservice to every chestnut that may or may not have been roasted on an open fire. In the hands of as skilled a company as this one, a play that is well over 100 years old reinforces the belief that this is the funniest English comedy ever written.
There was magic all around, but a special mention has to go to Marcus Truschinski, familiar to Milwaukee audiences and a core member of the company at APT.
The role of Algernon in this play is one of the great comic roles of all time, and Truschinski grabs this character by the neck, shakes it silly and wraps it in an embrace shared by everyone basking in the laughter.
Almost everyone knows the story of this play. It’s a farce without slamming doors as we have mistaken identities, little and big lies, stern dowagers, young lovers, old lovers, those who want to be lovers and more laughs than anyone could rightly expect.
"Earnest" was first performed in 1895, after it left the pen of Oscar Wilde. There is a good reason why it has been performed countless times over the years by everyone from high school drama club to community theaters that want to get laughs to the most serious, skilled and dedicated professional companies.
APT is in that last group. The outdoor theatre as a spectacular setting for a spectacular production. Director William Brown gave these actors freedom to take these characters to a depth and a height that was dazzling.
Truschinski set the pace early with his facile demeanor, providing a clear roadmap to where this play was going. His asides to the audience helped create an intimacy that carried through the entire three hour performance (with two 15-minute intermissions). There were no complaints about the length.
The antics of Truschinski were matched by all the actors in this play. The enchanting Sarah Day, who has a standard belonging only to herself, managed to be both regal and haughty while demonstrating in dramatic fashion the foibles of the idle rich playing Lady Bracknell.
Matt Schwader, who played either Algernon’s brother or friend or cousin or something, matched Truschinski step for step on their journey to love.
The objects of their affections were a burning-just-beneath-the-surface Cristina Panfilio and a lustful-in-a-bubble Kelsey Brennan.
It might seem difficult to follow all the twists and turns in this play, but with a wonderful set by Kevin Depinet and lighting by Michael A. Peterson, there was no need for a scorecard to tell the players.
This wonderful production doesn’t hide anything. What you see is what you get. And what you get is a wonderful examination of what can happen when you will go to any lengths to get what you want. Like they say, be careful what you ask for. It may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
This production of "The Importance of Being Earnest," however, is all it’s cracked up to be, and more.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.