REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest (Remy Bumppo)


A Wilde night of wit



Remy Bumppo Theatre presents
The Importance of Being Earnest
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by
Shawn Douglass
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through Jan 9   |  tickets: $40-$50   |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

I have to admit, when I entered the Greenhouse for Monday’s opening night performance of Remy Bumppo’s The Importance of Being Earnest, I wasn’t quite in the mood for Oscar Wilde’s famous wit. I was coming off a redeye bus ride from a whirlwind Thanksgiving vacation, and on top of that, I could sense the first annoying tinglings of a cold. I don’t think I’m in the position to deem that the production, directed by Shawn Douglass, has any healing powers. However, after a few hours of chuckle-inducing satire, I would be lying if I said I didn’t leave the theatre feeling a tad bubbly. The powers of Wilde somehow managed to persist even with Monday’s torrential downpour.

Hoerl(RevChasuble)Armour(Prism)Hurley(Jack)Brennan(Cecily)Anderson(Algernon)A case could be made that The Importance of Being Earnest is some sort of sardonic allegory; Wilde continues to subvert the Victorian norms he so often took aim at. The 1895 farce expounds on love, especially the role of lying in relationships. In the age of Facebook profiles and, white lies are par for the course. Apparently fibbing was just as common a hundred years ago.

The play revolves around two friends, Jack (Paul Hurley) and the hedonistic Algernon (Greg Matthew Anderson). Both invent brothers so that they can live freely as another persona without the fear of repercussion on their very real reputation. Unfortunately, Cupid strikes and trouble starts brewing. In the city, Jack names himself Earnest (ha) and falls for the charms of Gwendolen Fairfax (Linda Gillum), who claims she could never love someone that wasn’t named Earnest. Jack decides he should re-christen himself and leaves for his country home (where they think Jack’s imaginary brother is a libertine), but Algernon, always looking for some excitement, throws a wrench in his plan. He visits Jack’s country homestead also claiming to be Earnest, where he falls for his friend’s ward, Cecily (Kelsey Brennan). Obviously, there can be only one Earnest and time is running out as everyone converges on the estate. Of course, Wilde ties everything up by revealing ridiculous family secrets and logical roller coasters.

Anderson steals the show here, painting his Algernon with plenty of lounging, raised eyebrows, and a keen sense of Wilde’s timing. Another notable performance is David Darlow’s turn as the aphorism-rich Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother. The crossdressing, thankfully, does not come off as a gimmick; rather, I could easily believe Darlow was simply the best choice for the part. Hurley, Brennan, and Gillum also do decent jobs, albeit with a lack of fire.

Brennan(Cecily)Armour(Prism) Darlow(Bracknell)Brennan(Cecily)
Brennan(Cecily)Hurley(Jack)Anderson(Algernon) Hurley(Jack)Gillum(Gwendolyn)Anderson(Algernon)

Overall, that’s Douglass’ biggest failing with this production. The stakes aren’t high enough, and Wilde’s delicious wit feels stodgy at times. When the writer’s infamous one-liners pop up in the script, too often the actors here glibly allow them to fall flat. Instead of an engaging scene, we watch the actors being clever. This throws the momentum off and it takes a long time for the cast to rediscover their balance. The first act, with the exception of Darlow, has a hard time finding the proper pacing. After that, though, the text and the actors are more in sync. Another unfortunate result of the cast’s woodenness is that a lot of the laughs are stifled into giggles. Don’t get me wrong, the humor here is delightful, it’s just not hilarious.

Nevertheless, Remy Bumppo still has a winner on its hands, and the cast oozes with charm. Wilde’s sharp satirical voice could be made more alive, but it definitely shines throughout. I would wager it’s impossible to leave in a bad mood, even when a late-fall deluge awaits you outside.

Rating: ★★★


Extra Credit:

  • Download the Being Earnest Study Guide (excellent!)
  • Don’t miss Between The Lines on December 11th
  • Consider attending the special New Year’s Eve performance on Friday, Dec. 31 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $75 and include post-show champagne and dessert with the cast!


David Darlow  Lady Bracknell
Greg Matthew Anderson Algernon Moncreiff
Annabel Armour Miss Prism
Linda Gillum Gwendolen Fairfax
Paul Hurley John (Jack) Worthing
Kelsey Brennan Cecily Cardew
Ted Hoerl Rev. Canon Chasuble
William J. Watt Merriman/Lane
Creative Team  
Shawn Douglass  Director
Jacqueline & Richard Penrod Scenic Designers
J.R. Lederle Lighting Designer
Melissa Torchia Costume Designer
Nick Heggestad Props Designer
Jason Knox Sound Designer


Greg Matthew Anderson (Algernon Moncrieff) is an Artistic Associate with Remy Bumppo where he has performed in Night and Day, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Marriage of Figaro, On the Verge, Brontë, The Philadelphia Story, The Best Man and Power. Other Chicago credits include Tom Stoppard‘s Rock and Roll at the Goodman Theatre, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at Court Theatre,Oklahoma! at American Theater Company, and Without Intermission and A Moment Alone at Improv Olympic. He is a graduate of Duke University’s Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy and its Department of Theater Studies.

Annabel Armour (Miss Prism) is the recipient of two Joseph Jefferson Awards and two After Dark Awards. She most recently appeared at Victory Gardens in At Home at the Zoo. Some favorite include Picnic (Writers’ Theatre), Pride and Prejudice (Cleveland Playhouse), Sunday in the Park with George (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Irish Rep & Galway Arts Festival), Before My Eyes (Victory Gardens), Angels in America I & II (The Journeymen),Grapes of Wrath (Ford’s Theatre D.C,) and The First Look Series (Steppenwolf). She can be seen in the films: Amityville Horror, Were the World Mine, and the recently released Conviction with Hillary Swank.

Kelsey Brennan (Cecily Cardew) makes her Remy Bumppo debut. Previously, she has appeared at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Next Act Theatre (The Value of Names), Milwaukee Repertory Theatre (Trouble in Mind, A Christmas Carol, Cyrano de Bergerac), and American Players Theatre (Ah, Wilderness!, Henry IV, The Belle’s Stratagem). Kelsey is a graduate of Ohio University.

David Darlow (Lady Bracknell) is an Artistic Associate at Remy Bumppo Theatre, David has been seen in Night and Day, Heroes, The Voysey Inheritance, The Best Man, Power, Humble Boy, Hidden Laughter, No Man’s Land, Hapgood, Road to Mecca, Man and Superman, Money, and Major Barbara (After Dark Award). Goodman Theatre acting credits include A Life in the Theatre, As You Like it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Passion and The Misanthrope. He has been seen in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s productions of Othello, Timon of Athens and As You Like It, and in Northlight Theatre‘s The Real Thing and Betrayal. Other Chicago credits include Nathan the Wise at Chicago Festival of the Arts; Stephen Sondheim’s Passion with Patty Lupone and Audra McDonald at Ravinia Festival, and Endgame at American Theater Company (Joseph Jefferson Award). His films include Were the World Mine, The Weatherman, Road to Perdition, The Fugitive, Hoodlum, Miller’s Crossing, and Ride with the Devil. On television he has been seen in "Barney Miller", "Barnaby Jones", "Early Edition" and "Prison Break." He has directed Mrs. Warren’s Profession and Les Liaisons Dangereuses for Remy Bumppo and As You Like it at the Utah Shakespearean Festival.

Shawn Douglass (Director) is an Artistic Associate with Remy Bumppo where his previous directing work includes The Philadelphia Story and Public Enemy (with Usman Ally). Other credits include Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks; Julius Caesar and The Diary of Anne Frank at Theatre at the Center; and Holiday at Northwestern University. Shawn is also an actor with Remy Bumppo, as well as the past Associate Artistic Director and producer of thinkTank. As a writer he has adapted The Immigrant Class, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Martin Eden for the stage. Shawn teaches acting at Northwestern University.

Linda Gillum (Gwendolyn Fairfax) is an Artistic Associate with Remy Bumppo where she has performed in Night and Day, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Old Times, Brontë, The Real Thing, The Best Man, Tartuffe, A Delicate Balance, Some Americans Abroad, Holiday, Top Girls and Man and Superman. She has also worked with A Red Orchid Theatre, Court Theatre, Defiant Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Roadworks Theatre, ShawChicago, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Theatre at the Center. Film and TV credits include: The Haunting Hour, Casting About, Bruised Orange, The Shadow, "Prison Break" and "Early Edition."

Ted Hoerl (Rev. Canon Chasuble) is delighted to return to Remy Bumppo where has appeared in Major Barbara and Arcadia. On other stages, he’s appeared in Sandbox and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Goodman); The Little Foxes and Buried Child (Shattered Globe); The Weir, Jeff nomination for Best Ensemble and 1776,Jeff Award for Best Musical (Signal Ensemble Theatre); A Doll’s House, The Millionairess, Voices from Jerusalem, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…Jeff Award for Best Ensemble (Next); Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, Devil’s Disciple, and Geneva(ShawChicago); Incident at Vichy AfterDark Award for Best Ensemble (Writers’); Love! Valour! Compassion! (Organic); Fascination and Dreamboy, Jeff nomination for Best Ensemble (About Face), and almost 100 other roles at theaters around the country. Film: Hunter, Gone to Sea, Dancer, The Hills Are Like Elephants, Betsey Wetsey Timebomb Effect (seen at a dozen film festivals worldwide). Ted directs the Meisner program at Act One Studios.

Paul Hurley (John "Jack" Worthing) is thrilled to make his official debut with Remy Bumppo after covering the role of Danceny for a few weeks in last spring’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He has also been seen on stage in Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Regional credits include work with Milwaukee Repertory Theater (A Christmas Carol, Anna Christie); Madison Repertory Theatre (The Laramie Project); Delaware Theatre Company (Henry V, All the Great Books Abridged); Renaissance Theaterworks (world premiere of The Dig); Utah Shakespearean Festival (Romeo and Juliet, Doctor Faustus); and six seasons with American Players Theatre (including The Circle, The Belle’s Stratagem, The Merchant of Venice, Timon of Athens, The Cherry Orchard, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost). Paul holds an MFA from the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program.

William J. Watt (Merriman/Lane) is excited to be opening his first Remy Bumppo production, having previously stepped into the role of Antoine during the final week of The Marriage of Figaro. Other Chicago credits include The Flu Season (Black Sheep); Blithe Spirit (The Gift Theatre); An American Clock, Broken Glass, Abandonment, Praying Small (AWT/Redtwist Theatre); and Under America (Mortar). Bill has a 19 year association with The Iowa Summer Rep. Regional credits include Talley’s Folly, Taming of the Shrew, Mass Appeal, An Empty Plate at the Cafe du Grand Beouf, The Kentucky Cycle, Fuddy Meers, and Lonely Planet opposite Ty Burrell of T.V.’s "Modern Family."


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