Breckenridge Backstage Theatre offers an inspired production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

It’s been many years since I’ve read or seen anything by Oscar Wilde. But just recently, my son Alex was telling me about his fondness for the Irish playwright’s bold writing style and famous, stinging epigrams. Our discussion delved deep into the distinctions between epigrams, proverbs, adage, parables and the like, and I determined to take a closer look at Oscar Wilde’s writings. So, it seemed a remarkable coincidence when I heard the Backstage Theatre was presenting a production of Wilde’s well-known farce The Importance of Being Earnest.

Chock-full of silly bits and witty dialogue, this timeless comedy, directed by Branden Smith, delivers on all fronts, thanks in part to a hilarious fight over when and how to eat muffins. Never a dull moment, the show moves at an exhilarating pace and produces a steady, well-timed drumbeat of laughs with solid delivery of puns, satire, irony and the aforementioned epigrams.

The charming Victorian set design helps transport the audience to late 1800s London, where Algernon and his friend John ‘Jack’ Worthing (Christian Ray Robinson) soon discover their mutual flair for using elaborate excuses to avoid social obligations in their daily life. Jack leaves his home in the country to go to the city to visit a make-believe brother named Ernest. While in the city, he goes by the name of Ernest when visiting his love interest Gwendolen Fairfax (Kelsey Colwell), who happens to be the cousin of his friend Algernon Moncrieff (Jacob Dresch).

Meanwhile, Algernon has invented a fictional friend named “Bunbury” to leave the city and visit the country. Algernon soon travels to Jack’s home pretending to be brother Ernest, where he falls in love with Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (Stephanie Saltis). Consequently, both women earnestly believe they’re in love with a man named Ernest, when of course there is no one by that name.

Dresch steals the show with his portrayal of Algernon. With his spot-on Victorian-era English accent and commanding presence of the stage, he is incredibly fun to watch. Never have I seen anyone devour cucumber sandwiches so delightfully. That said, Smith is fortunate to have attracted some top Front Range talent for the production, including Leslie O’Caroll as Lady Bracknell. She gets in one of the play’s best zingers: “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon” she says. “Only people who can’t get into it do that.” Memorable and satirical — like any good epigram.

The characters — and even the set pieces — move about the stage in well-timed choreography, matching the energetic tempo of the dialogue. One bit that brought plenty of laughs was Colwell and Saltis’ precise flipping of their folding hand fans as they strutted around the stage. A few additional bright spots include the butler (Seth Palmer Harris) reading Cecily’s diary during intermission and a hilarious kiss between Miss Prism (Quinn Walcott) and Reverend Canon Chasuble (Robert Jones).

Seeing this play reminded me of why I love live theater. I thoroughly enjoyed the laughs and from the looks of it, everyone else around me did as well.