“Uncertainty is the essence of romance.” ─ Algernon, The Importance of Being Earnest 

If this comic phrase, spoken off-handedly by one of Oscar Wilde’s chief characters, were true, we would look on this past year and a half as a romance to rival any penned by the literary greats. Instead, what we’ve experienced in the land of the real has been far more tragedy mixed with a certain degree of absurdity.  

The best thing about Corban’s Theatre’s newest entry to the stage is that it offers all of the latter and none of the former. The first curtain carries away the tragedy of genuine uncertainty, exchanging it for a stage of whimsical pastels and the comic joy of artful fiction. Regardless of the hoods the players wear for caution, the sincerity of their performance immediately draws us into the comfort of the English sitting room. There, safe and secure, the delicate, witty banter of friends Algernon Moncreif and John “Earnest” Worthing, played by Brendan Fugere and Quinn Coomer, offers quick entrance into a different time.  

For those who are familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest, I found our current circumstances to add a new and intriguing lens to Wilde’s discussion of society and human interaction. In the isolation of this year, too often we have found ourselves like the young Cecily Cardew, out of boredom inventing our own realities, complete with an imagined proposal and months of contrived correspondence between individuals we have not seen. It is through this lens that lines like, “One week is quite enough to dine with one’s own relations,” take new meaning as many mourn the loss of meaningful interaction with loved ones throughout this year and a half.  

But we are not left to ponder this melancholy. Instead, as the two gentlemen navigate the increasingly complicated circumstances of leading double lives, the audience is inundated with light-hearted moral philosophy, clever turns of phrase, and some of the wittiest one-liners ever penned for screen or stage. It’s immediately apparent just how masterful Wilde’s writing was, which is perhaps an even greater testament to the young actors bringing his words to life. Their nuance and dedication to their craft is on full display from scene one to curtain call.  

Fugere and Coomer are masterful in their portrayal of the play’s bumbling (or “bunburying”) male duo, tussling over topics from marriage to muffins. Algernon’s invented character of Mr. Bunbury, which allows him to cavort around the countryside in disguise and free himself from undesired social engagements, takes on a new meaning as we find ourselves no longer needing any sort of Bunbury at all. Instead, our contemporary audience finds its meaning in the play’s end, when disguises are dropped in favor of the closeness of complete transparency and social reconciliation.  

The journey on the stage to that ending, however, is filled with pure comedy along the way. The crowning moment for me came with the first meeting of Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax, played by Faith Treadwell and Nicole Peeke. Treadwell and Peeke put on a masterclass of comedic timing and stage chemistry, bringing new life to a scene in which the young women first meet, become instant friends, then sworn enemies, and fast friends again in the space of two laughter-inducing minutes. The entire performance, buttressed by a talented supporting cast, feels like a leisurely joy ride through a plot that finds a way of both instructing and delighting.  

While taking in the sights and sounds of director Jeremiah Price’s exuberant and playful staging, the joyful satire of the play, coupled with the incredible isolation and hardship of this season, proved enough to prompt even this introverted writer to desire to “rise up from my semi-recumbent posture,” and move beyond a world like Algernon’s, in which every day blends together and “it always is nearly seven.” Its message left me disagreeing profoundly with Lady Gwendolen’s statement that “the absence of old friends can endure with equanimity,” and delighting all the more in the play’s resolution—a return to the intimacy of honesty and steadfast companionship.    

This play is a must-see for everyone, not just those who have been missing live theater. Through Corban Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnestthe tedium of Wilde’s portrayal of British aristocratic life begins to make sense in a new way, and yet the audience is not left in the extended melancholy of our present state. Instead, we are offered a moment to breathe and forget, to reflect and remember, transported to a world where uncertainty becomes comedy and the greatest difficulty is a profound lack of cucumber sandwiches.  

Corban Theatre’s production will begin on Friday, March 5, running through Sunday, March 14. Tickets are available for purchase for the live streamed event, with flexible group and family pricing also available, and a limited number of tickets for distanced, in-person viewing. For more information and to purchase your tickets today, visit: https://www.onthestage.com/show/corban-university/the-importance-of-being-earnest-67756