If the current Mary Moody Northen Theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest is any indication, Richard Robichaux is a master conductor. Yes, I grant you, this term is typically reserved for those with coattails and batons. But Oscar Wilde's scherzo of a text is molded here with such finesse as to prove Robichaux's consummate musicianship – so much so that I couldn't help but feel as though I were attending an evening at the symphony.
And for good reason. Wilde's late 19th century play frolics through high society with an inherent lyricism. Just as composers use markings to communicate to musicians how to play their notes, Wilde does for his actors – often with a great degree of subtlety and subtext. Robichaux makes the most of every nuance in this fresh production of the classic comedy, and his ensemble – overflowing with extraordinary talent – follows suit. Jon Richardson and Josean Rodriguez (as Jack and Algernon, respectively) bound with youthful energy as they orchestrate their mischievous schemes, and Gwendolen and Cecily – the objects of their desires – are rendered with just the right Victorian overtones by Hannah Marie Fonder and Sophia Franzella. As usual, MMNT has rounded up a smashing handful of Austin theatre's finest as Equity Guest Artists, including Irene White as the mysterious Ms. Prism and Chronicle Arts Editor Robert Faires as her cheery Chasuble. But it is Barbara Chisholm as Lady Bracknell who racks up the most rolling-in-the-aisles points as she drolly and severely delivers some of Wilde's best bits of dialogue.
The design elements of MMNT shows often receive praise, and it's again easy to see why. Ia Ensterä's stark white, highly architectural set is yet another winner in the designer's impressive oeuvre, and the splashes of bright color with which it is adorned throughout serve as a visual analog of the production's freshness. Stephen Pruitt's lighting skillfully brings out the riches in T'Cie Mancuso's exquisite costumes. Similar to an orchestra's wide spectrum of available tone colors, the design work here sparkles and glistens in counterpoint to the melodious quality of the play's direction and execution.
The experience of attending such a well-made production of a well-made play felt all the more fulfilling on Saturday night thanks to the packed house. It's rare to encounter a full house in Austin theatre, and this one included some of the most highly regarded theatre professionals in this market, to boot. It was truly a lively, rousing experience shared communally.
Of his pianistic rendition near the top of the play, Algernon remarks, "I don't play accurately – anyone can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression." Not only is this production of Earnest wonderfully expressed, but it is played with a remarkable accuracy not to be missed.
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