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Shelby Dryden, left, Sydney Haygood and Emily Buesing rehearse a scene from “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the Studio Theatre at Lamar University. Courtesy photo

Review: LU theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is terrific entertainment

“The Importance of Being Earnest,” is a farce about deception and triviality, but there is nothing deceptive or trivial about Lamar University theatre’s latest production. The excellence is in plain view.

Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy gets a fresh showing with an ensemble that is fits seamlessly together, under the direction of husband and wife guest artists Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl, from Houston’s 4th Wall Theatre.

The play gets off to a rollicking start in the apartment of Algernon Moncrief, played superbly by Chris Shroff, who is louche and bendy, and positively exudes entitled irresponsibility. He is visited by his friend “Ernest,” played Ed Seymour. The contrast between the characters is well balanced, with Seymour acting as a low-key foil to Shroff’s outlandishness. As events progress, we discover that both men have created fictional excuses to be one thing in the country and quite another in town.

“Ernest” is , in fact, Jack Worthing, who, in the country, is the responsible guardian of his ward, Cecily Cardew, played by Emily Buesing. “Ernest” is Jack’s invented, far less responsible brother. Algernon has invented an invalid friend, “Bunbury, whose ailments require frequent trips out of town.

earnestThese fictions afford each man to have his cake and eat it, too (in Algernon’s case, quite literally, as he spends most of the play snacking on whatever is available).

Jack is in love with Gwendolyn Fairfax, played by Sydney Haygood, and is ready to kill his “brother” off and come clean so they can marry. The couple’s furtive looks and sly flirting are a delight.

This being Wilde, the course of true love is destined never to run smooth. Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell, will not agree to the marriage and Act 1 ends with Jack on his way to a business meeting, and Algernon secretly off to meet Cecily.

In Act 2, the action bristles as Gwendolyn and Cecily meet, both believing they are engaged to the same man — Ernest (whose name is signifies the “earnest” qualities they seek). Haygood and Buesing are quite a double act, shifting from sisters to rivals and back again as they exchange barely-veiled barbs. Haygood, as the sultry city girl, is hilarious, and Buesing’s almost cloying naïve sweetness is the perfect counterpart. Both women know what they want and will not be thwarted.

Dryden’s Lady Bracknell is domineering and overbearing. She almost barks her lines, leaving the others cowering before her, with a sense of absolute surety and entitlement that comes with her class. Wilde’s play is a commentary and indictment of the shallowness of high society. When Act 3 rolls around, we find she has family secrets of her own.

It would be unfair not recognize the other members of the ensemble, Austin Jones, Brianna Butler, Maddy Hightower and Josh Pendino. There was no weak link in the cast.

The direction is crisp and the three acts positively fly by. The staging, in the round, is wonderfully choreographed as the actors circle each other like predators going in for the kill.

Kudos also go to Cherie Acosta’s costume crew, who have come up with a wonderful color palette (the play is set in the 1950s).

Wilde’s play was first performed in 1895, but it is as funny today — and as biting a social commentary — as it was then. This production is a must-see.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” will continue tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre.

Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 LU/LIT faculty and staff, senior citizens and Non-LU students and $7 for LU/LIT student with a valid ID.

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