The drive to Issaquah from Seattle isn't long, but it's long enough to dissuade a pessimist, and walking up and down Front Street waiting for the show to start, you can't help but suspect you're in for it. Is there any way it will be good? How can a play that gave actors funny things to say more than 100 years ago still be funny? The most popular send-up of Victorian social life since Victorianism, The Importance of Being Earnest is still regularly reenacted in theaters the world over, and seeing it casts a light on your own social circumstances: At the Village Theatre, it makes a person wonder what Oscar Wilde would do with Issaquah's airs as source material. On Front Street—sitting there like an art piece—was a plum-colored SUV idling at the curb, with no one inside. Inside the bar it was parked in front of, adults dressed in contemporary shapes and colors regarded a bar menu earnestly, as if what's on it isn't the same as what's on every other bar menu on Front Street.
To cap off the preshow dread, the ushers whispered as people were entering, "There will be two intermissions," which are the five least fortunate words in the history of live performance. Two intermissions?! What do I look like I'm made out of—time? Nevertheless, you're committed; you drove all this way. Even if you have never seen a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, as I hadn't, this is the play you're imagining when you imagine The Importance of Being Earnest: light, tightly written, funnier than you can believe, rich with deceptions and coincidences and faintly familiar lines... This production is all of those things. It's weightless. It's mesmerizing entertainment.
All of the actors are equity actors, and many of them are well known in Seattle's elite theater circles. Paul Morgan Stetler (who plays Jack) was just in The Adding Machine at New Century Theatre Company, in a grim, gripping psycho- dynamic performance; the role of Jack is a little less chewy, though it's impossible to imagine anyone doing it better. No one has ever closed French doors better than he does. Jason Collins plays Algernon as if his shoes were on fire, which, since he's the visual focus among the ensemble, owing to his aristocratic curls, might be where that sense of weightlessness is coming from. Jennifer Lee Taylor, who also had a heavy role in The Adding Machine, is glorious here as Gwendolen: She seems to have the show—its timing, its slyness, its confection-like lightness—in her bones, and yet everything she does seems organic, on the spot. (Yes, this is what actors are supposed to do, but it takes someone good to remind you how rare it is.) And Angela DiMarco is effervescent as Cecily, though effervescent's really the only way to go, considering Cecily's just here to give her tutor (crucial to the plot) a reason to exist and to give Algernon someone to go after. Lady Bracknell is (over)played perfectly by Laura Kenny, a glazed doughnut of hate gliding around the stage, saying the meanest, shallowest, most hilarious stuff. The material, Wilde's writing, is the star of the show. Director Brian Yorkey has drawn out all its potential, yet nothing feels labored. It's funny. It's a funny play. After more than 100 years, it's still funny.