A prime example of this phenomenon is the character of Lady Augusta Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” She is seen onstage only briefly in the course of the play’s three lengthy acts and while she could be considered a supporting character, her name is nearly as famous as the title of the play itself.
Wilde’s classic lark, often described as the finest comedy in the English language, first appeared in London’s 1895 theatrical season. From the very start, the part of Lady Bracknell has been a sort of catnip treat where aging female stars, such as Maggie Smith, are concerned. Now, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Lynn Redgrave is doing a credible rendering of the role in the company’s elaborate, slightly misconceived production.
Redgrave is supported by an appealing cast, particularly Wilde’s quartet of young British strivers: Jeffrey Carlson is a somewhat frenetic Algernon Moncrieff, while Wayne Wilcox is upright and determined as Jack Worthing. Annika Borsas’ stately Gwendolen Fairfax and Zoe Winters’ giggly Cecily Cardew both seem a touch overdirected, but a little time should help them settle into their roles.
David Schweizer’s restless production is the kind of thing that often results when a director doesn’t trust the play he’s been given and tries to improve on it with trickery and embellishment. To that end, he inserts two superfluous scenes.
In one, Carlson plays the piano; in another, a character resembling the playwright welcomes the patrons and advises them to silence their cell phones. Like most of Schweizer’s touches, the moment doesn’t do any real harm, nor does it add anything to speak of.
Even in a shaky production, however, there’s joy to be found in “Earnest.” Best of all, Redgrave’s name can be added to the lengthy list of intelligent, genuinely funny Bracknells.