Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 28, 2021

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, The Importance of Being Earnest

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 10, 2021
by Shera Cohen


It is the turn of the last century, England. BTG Unicorn Theatre audience meets two spiffy dressed bachelors from upper-crust families, each named “Earnest”—actually pretending to be Earnest. The glib repartee of Oscar Wilde’s characters play silly pretense with verbal gags, malaprops, and double entendres aplenty. This is a very funny play underneath the physical trappings of what initially one could take as drama. Of course, “earnest” can mean making efforts to be truthful. This is hardly the case for the gentlemen dandies Earnest. 


The story is essentially a battle of wits, or witless. The pair call on two young ladies in their attempts to woo and game-play all in the name of love. For some ridiculous reason, the fair damsels insist on marrying a man whose name is Earnest.  


Each of the parties in the quartet recite his or her goal of a future of prominence. How to do this? Find the perfect mate, especially the monied mate. The characters are superficial boobs and dim-witted dandies, in other words, perfect matches. The constant humor is that each of the lovers are clueless about themselves and their intendeds. However, there is a thin line in acting which the foursome couldn’t reach. Go for the subtle laughs and winks with each other and the audience and you have a successful farce. This “Earnest” used broad strokes which makes the guys and gals without much personality, albeit still extremely humorous. 


Saving the best for last; the first is the exquisite minutia of costume design, all indicative of the era; sometimes bordering on gauche, yet haut couture gauche just the same. 


Actor Harriet Harris is becoming an expected thespian in the Berkshires. Remember Beebe from “Fraser”? That’s her. It only takes two seconds of her loud nasal voice for any audience member to appreciate the skills, enunciation, and power of her vocal range. Harris is a brilliant personification of sophisticated humor. Her eyes dark back and forth while adding subtle winks to the audience. Playing Lady Brackdell, she has deemed herself the sole person to vet potential couples. She needs more stage time, some schtick, as if to say, “Ignore these dull young people. Look at me!”


A few suggestions are in order. “Earnest” need not be three acts; cut and/or trim throughout.  It doesn’t take two intermissions to move a couple of couches on a set. Act I repartee between the bachelors is repetitious. But are Wilde’s words so sacred that some can’t be intelligently chopped out? It’s done to Shakespeare’s works all the time, and we don’t hear him complain about it.