Feb. 4th, 2017

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Yesterday night, Kimberly and I went to see The Importance of Being Earnest, put on by the Actors Ensemble of berkeley up at the Live Oak Theatre.

I think we've grown somewhat spoiled by our local community theaters, Berkeley Playhouse and Shotgun Players, because they've bother grown to be entirely professional companies. While the Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, it was ... well, amateur.

I was somewhat forewarned when we were sitting in the teenie lobby, waiting for them to open the doors. A couple of old folks were there running things, and they were talking about stuff like maybe they should think about running some ads (for the show ending in a week) and how they had just 16 pre-orders (thankfully, the small theatre ended up being more than half full).

Inside the theatre, the sets were OK. Kimberly says the costumes were generally badly fitting, though I scarcely noticed.

The play somewhat disturbingly started with one of the servants sitting on stage reading for 10 minutes. As the clock ticked to 8:10 for a show that was supposed to have started at 8:00, with the servant on stage the whole time, I began to wonder if we'd tricked into some performance art BS. Fortunately we then got started for real.

But the acting ...

The big problem was Lady Bracknell, and that's a pretty big problem in "The Importance of Being Earnest". She was constantly forgetting her lines, and the rest of the time she seemed like she was on the verge of forgetting them. There'd be a lag, and then she'd blurt it out, stomping all over the actual content of the line along the way. Which is a shame because Bracknell of course has many of the best lines in the play. But we really didn't to appreciate any of them (except a couple I appreciated because I knew they were coming). The program book said the actress has been in theatre for 40 years, and even did some Off-Broadway, so it makes me feel bad that she might be losing what she loves to do.

Chasuble meanwhile was horribly overacted. And I couldn't tell if he was also forgetting lines or if the big pauses and stutters were more bad overacting. Earnest (Jack) was wooden. But things improved from there. Prism was OK. Gwen and Cecily were good.

And Algie, he saved the play. The actor was quite good, and he has most of the other really good lines. And he was very amusingly (and appropriately) constantly eating. He sometimes used this to purposeful humor such as one line he gave that was largely muffled by what he was eating, but which had to have been intentional because Jack then repeats what he says. And this all led to the funniest moment of the play, when Algie was eating muffins and accidentally spit some of it back on himself. He seized the moment (and the ejected muffin bit) and thew it violently down in great agitation, and you could see that he was just barely containing laughter. And on he went.

As for the play itself: it's Oscar Wilde. The play really feels like an excuse for everyone to spend two hours exchanging witticisms. And, if it feels a bit unbelievable at first, you soon lose yourself in the cleverness.

So, a fun play, thanks largely to the writing and the Algie.

(This is just the second play we've seen at Live Oak Theatre, the first being Rough Crossing, in 2001.)

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