CEDAR CITY — The latest installment of comedy at Simonfest in Cedar City is a little bit of Seinfeld, a little bit of Shakespeare, and enough British humor to make the idea of missing The Importance of Being Earnest “absurd.”

Show closes July 29, 2023.

In his director’s note, Richard Bugg compares Oscar Wilde’s popular play to the 1990s television comedy series Seinfeld as “a play about nothing” — a parallel that quickly makes sense as the production opens.

Set in 1895 London, two friends, Algernon Moncrieff (played by Tyson Chanticleer) and John “Jack” Worthing (played by Lincoln Stone) discuss their methods for avoiding the doldrums of obligation by inventing alternate personas for themselves that require their attention away from their homes. For Jack, he assumes the persona of his own fictional brother “Earnest” when he is in town and remains as Jack when he is in the country. For Algernon, whenever he needs to avoid an awkward social call, his ailing fictional friend “Bunbury” requires his attention. The problem comes when Jack’s love interest, Gwendolen Fairfax (played by Alyson King Wheeler), who knows him only as “Earnest,” confesses much of her adoration is based solely on the fact that she has always wanted to love a man named Earnest. Meanwhile, Algernon sets out to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily Cardew (played by Juliet Lorentzen) by posing as the infamous troublesome brother Earnest and learns that Cecily has also always longed to love a man named Earnest.

And so, the stage is set for the case of Shakespearean-style mistaken identity and hilarity.

In such a dialogue-heavy script, each of these talented actors deserve credit for their delivery of some rather impassioned, verbose exchanges with only a few opening night slips. However, some of the early humor in the show comes at the hand of Algernon’s manservant, Lane (played by Blake Dunn), who speaks very little, but whose timing and anticipation of his master’s needs leads to some hearty chuckles.

Chanticleer was particularly believable in his relaxed, often slurred performance of the playboy character. His comfortable, languid movements served as an intriguing contrast to Stone’s equally believable rendition of Jack Worthing’s more formal approach to each situation. Meanwhile, the lilting, youthful enthusiasm portrayed by Lorentzen as Cecily was immediately endearing, as was Wheeler’s dramatic, passionate portrayal of the lovely Gwendolyn.

Although one could argue the minimalist approach to the set design served the story well, it also offered a reminder that this festival is operating on a relatively small budget. Set pieces were sparse and far from ostentatious, even when the setting was supposed to feel lavish. In addition, the stage space itself felt large for the minimal furnishings; and even a little larger than necessary when only two people were on stage. The characters were often pacing back and forth to fill the space, and only in one scene with Cecily and Gwendolyn did the extra running back and forth seem to fill a comedic purpose. The rest of the time the added space made the blocking a bit distracting, and even a little exhausting.

If there was a character whose portrayal filled the space best, it was Lady Bracknell, played by Christine Potter Hyatt. Her character demanded attention and respect, which not only fit her part well, but served as a strong focal point as the final details of the farce were revealed.

In an era when so many are quick to be offended, there is something so refreshing about a play that allows people to laugh at themselves and one another’s flaws, differences, and disagreements. To do otherwise would be, as many in this production said, “absurd.” Thus, The Importance of Being Earnest at SimonFest is a welcomed antidote for a society where people take themselves a little too seriously.

The SimonFest production of The Importance of Being Earnest plays various dates at 2 PM or 7 PM through July 29 at the Heritage Center Theater (105 North 100 East, Cedar City). Tickets are $18-30. For more information, visit simonfest.org.

This review is generously supported by a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.