The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey enlivens late summer with a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” that boasts considerable grace and style. Zest and flair abound in Tamara Harvey’s staging and the presence of an attractive cast. The wit of Oscar Wilde’s durable comedy of manners remains crisp.
Harvey, who trained with the company last year as a directing intern, makes a notable Garden State debut. She has harnessed Wilde’s brittle bite and created some clever and funny bits of business while preserving the play’s intrinsic sense of humor and order.
Steve Wilson’s amusingly level-headed Algernon is mischievous and manly. Gareth Saxe as the love-smitten Jack Worthing can be a bit too broad, but likely will settle down in time. Their verbal duels boast some delightfully comic posturing.
The comely ladies are acted with proper turn-of-the-century charm by Caralyn Kozlowski and Elena Shaddow. Kozlowski’s decorous Gwendolen is “as right as a trivet,” while Shaddow has a sweet piquancy as a teen Cecily nearly bursting with naughty youthful allure.
Jane Altman’s imperious portrait of Lady Bracknell is braced with a grand sobering haughtiness. She is ever so careful not to overplay the discovery of an infant in a large leather “handbag,” but offers embracing comic delivery elsewhere with pointed aristocratic flair.
The elusive governess Miss Prism (Susan Greenhill), who harbors the secret of Worthing’s birth, has a giddy and inspired touch of gawky lunacy. Davis Hall, a 40-year veteran of Jersey stages, is the fatuous cleric who makes a science of lodging his foot firmly in his mouth and punctuating his misguided comment with a goofy stare.
Even the servants have their moments, especially Richard Waddingham, who opens the play with some indecisive action concerning just which table he should use to place tea.
Cameron Anderson’s smart set design, with its stunning Victorian furniture, is backed by abstract panels of leafy greenery.
The fabulously smart costumes created by Michael McAleer find grand bonnets topped with feathering plumes that reach skyward. The ladies are elegantly garbed like fashionable period cover girls, and the gents are suitably well tailored.