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2021 marks my 20th anniversary as a columnist for Seattle-area theatre. When I happily accepted the gracious invitation from the 5th Avenue Theatre to come on over, I had no idea my life would be changed in ways I never anticipated. The invitation turned out to be far more than attending countless plays and musicals.

The Seattle theatre community opened their arms and their hearts to me. By 2008, I received another invitation to attend Village Theatre in Issaquah (with occasional visits to Seattle’s ACT Theatre and other venues). My experiences helped me to overcome my shyness, and I established many cherished friendships.

Then the COVID pandemic brought live theatre, and all other forms of entertainment, to an abrupt and startling halt. As theatre suddenly went “dark”, my dear Seattle theatre family was suddenly unemployed. Heartbroken, I wondered when and how I would return to live theatre myself.

It has been a long and devastating pandemic. But slowly and cautiously, live theatre is beginning to return. Select shows reopened on Broadway recently under strict COVID guidelines, with regional theaters following. For my own return to theatre, I choose to attend “The Importance Of Being Earnest”, now playing through September 19 at Center Stage Theatre in Federal Way.

I could think of no better way to return to theatre and briefly escape the prolonged traumas and dramas of the pandemic than Oscar Wilde’s celebrated 1895 comedy of manners.To escape the tedium of his daily routine, Jack (Frank Roberts) finds it useful to be “Earnest” in town and Jack in the country. Whenever he wishes to escape country obligations, he is conveniently called away on matters involving his “brother Earnest.” Jack wishes to wed Gwendolyn (Robin Mae Becar), but first he must pass inspection from her formidable mother Lady Augusta Bracknell, portrayed by the excellent Rosalie Hilburn.

Perhaps because live theatre has been on such a long and unplanned pandemic hiatus, it takes director John Vreeke and cast a long time to pinpoint Wilde’s style and the fast pace that is so necessary for farce. The first act contains much conversational, expositionary dialogue between Jack and his flighty friend Algernon (Paul Richter). The dialogue should be rattled off as quickly and wittily as possible. Instead, the first half of the first act drags. Mr. Roberts plays Jack as a cartoon character when he should be playing a snobby but charismatic sophisticate. In the beginning, it is difficult to like or laugh with either Jack or Algernon. It certainly does not help that Mr. Vreeke adopts a strangely American attitude towards this quintessential British farce. But thankfully, when Miss Hilburn enters as Lady Bracknell, Oscar Wilde and England also finally arrive on stage with her.

When Jack tells Lady Bracknell that he knows absolutely nothing, she delightedly replies, “Good. I disapprove of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone.” This is deliciously funny, and when the action moves from town to country, the cast settles into the proper pace and humor.

In the country, Algernon decides to masquerade as “Earnest” and promptly falls in love with Jack’s ward Cecily (Colleen Michelle). Soon, Gwendolyn and Cecily believe they are both engaged to “Earnest”. The ladies confrontation over tea is a comedy classic. Miss Becar is suitably “uppity” as Gwendolyn displays the worst snobbery of the upper classes, and Miss Michelle delightfully drops Cecily’s mask of overly demure “innocence.” The men play their own variation on this scene when Jack and Algernon quibble over muffins. The play’s conclusion, involving Cecily’s governess Miss Prism (Sally Brady), a lost hand-bag, a three-volume romance novel and an abandoned baby, is simultaneously absurd and comedically sound.

On a personal note, I was delighted that CWU alumni Henry Talbot appears as butlers in both the town and country. Mr. Talbert and I appeared together in Valley Musical Theatre’s 2014 production of “1776.”

The upcoming 2021-2022 Season at Center Stage includes “Puss In Boots”, “The Oregon Trail”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrals” and “Yellow Fever.” Go to for more information.


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