WEST VALLEY CITY — I’ll begin this review by stating that I’ve never liked “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. I hated the play when I first read it and I couldn’t believe so many people loved it. The odds were against me so I figured it must be a show you have to see in order to enjoy. So with that I jumped at the opportunity to see this classic at the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley.
Directing: 3 (out of 5). The first act, though only 35 minutes, was unbearably slow. The shape and pacing of the scenes lacked, a lot. I felt comedic timing was left to overindulging a joke that depended on prompt switches between the the characters. I think the director and actors were worried that because the first act was so short, they needed to stretch it out to take up more time. That is not the case. The talent of the director was not completely lost, however. The second act was infinitely better shaped. Pacing was up and relationships were challenged and explored. So, even though the second act was twice as long as the first, it was also twice as bearable and fairly enjoyable too.
Acting: 3 (out of 5). I will score the men in the production a 3 in acting. They played the roles far too seriously and flat—not at all the manner the director described in the program. The women, however, brought a vibrant roller coaster of emotion and possibilities. They were a breath of fresh air and I was left in no doubt why Jack and Algernon were in love with Gwendolyn and Cecily. I was however baffled why these young ladies could find a bit of interest in their counterparts. But, I suppose that just plays into Wilde’s plot. If these women can fall in love for a name, why can’t I? It was difficult. Perhaps the strongest and most enjoyable performance of the evening came from Becca Ingram in the role of Cecily. The sun shone when she controlled the stage. My heart and attention ached when she was absent. Her dynamic performance certainly provided the saving grace for my evening at the theater.
Visual/Technical: 5 (out of 5). Hale Centre Theater is known throughout the state for their million dollar stage. It often seems as if their performance space ought to have its own bio in the program. That is not to discredit the magic they do with such a blessing to their theater. However, I was very pleased to see the Hale use a very simple set with a single change during the act break. Excellent use of color and lights. Visually and aurally I was committed to the show. Thank you for confirming that simple beauty is still possible on the million dollar stage.
Script/Other: 3 (out of 5). After seeing the show I am sad to report I continue with a dislike for Oscar Wilde’s script. I will acknowledge it’s merit. I also recognize that the majority of the laughter during the show came from the women in the audience. Perhaps it’s a gender issue. I don’t know. For that reason I’ll grant it a so-so rating of 3.
Overall: 3.5 (out of 5). This is a decent show. Since ticket prices in Utah are comparatively so low, no one should feel too guilty paying the $23-26 cost of this ticket. The Hale certainly provides the opportunity to see new musicals in the valley each year, so I’d say you could consider this an investment in the upcoming production of The Drowsy Chaperone. If you’re not crazy about Wilde, you really won’t be missing too much if you stay away from this show.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” plays through February 6 with multiple showtimes, in the Hale Centre Theatre, located at 3333 South Decker Lake Drive in West Valley City, UT. Tickets range between $23-26.