The Importance of Being Earnest, Hidden Stages Productions, at Blackwell Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. One hazard in presenting this popular comedy is that actors are often so awed by Oscar Wilde’s brilliant language–the most decorative prose in English–that they end up submissively reciting it. But since The Importance of Being Earnest is structured like a farce, with the entire plot leading to a punch line, the audience must be firmly acquainted with all the play’s intricacies. If they’re not, the show is in danger of becoming little more than an exquisitely worded mess.

Hidden Stages director Maia avoids this trap by slowing her cast’s delivery, though she never permits it to flag. This allows for an abundance of verbal nuance and visual humor, which helps keep the characters’ motives clear at all times (and cover the occasional fumbled line). She’s also encouraged them to develop personalities immediately recognizable to contemporary American audiences. (After all, the society Wilde mocks–in which love must be assisted by money and mutual deception to conquer all–is not so far from our own.) The result is a fresh, vigorous interpretation of this well-worn classic unencumbered by academic baggage.

–Mary Shen Barnidge