By Ellen Booraem
BROOKSVILLE — “I can’t believe this place exists,” a visitor to the Blue Hill Peninsula was heard to say recently.
Such disbelief applies to the third season of Bagaduce Theatre, now offering a crisply professional “The Importance of Being Earnest” in a Brooksville barn. If you haven’t discovered Bagaduce, get a move on.
“Earnest” is on stage through July 8, 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.
Pacing and diction are critical to Wilde’s drawing-room farces, written in the 1890s. You don’t go in there expecting depth of character and social commentary — you’re entering a world in which cucumber sandwiches are paramount, a suitor’s given name is more important than his character and a baby gets left behind in a handbag. Witty dialogue is why you’re there: It has to move fast, but you have to catch every word.
Director Patricia Conolly knows this, and her cast — a mix of equity actors from away, professionally trained newcomers and talented local amateurs — is gleefully capable. There’s nothing avant garde or surprising about this take on Wilde — just rock-solid acting and staging.
Earnest Worthing (Jed Peterson) has fallen in love with a city girl, Gwendolen, who loves him back at least partly because he’s called “Earnest.” Tragically, his real name is Jack — he’s been escaping his country home periodically by telling everyone his dissolute brother, Earnest, needs help in London. While in the city, he’s been calling himself Earnest. In Act II, Jack’s London friend Algernon (Matt Falber) —for reasons not clear but who cares — shows up at the country home pretending to be Earnest. Jack’s ward, the lovely Cecily, also is smitten with that name.
Jack, by the way, was the baby abandoned in that handbag. Just go with it.
The entire Bagaduce cast is marvelous. It’s a special thrill that the two sparkling young ladies are played by recent University of Maine theater graduate Isabella Etro and Bangor native Lauren Elwood, an Oberlin theater major and Bagaduce’s summer intern. They are a beautiful match for their two fiancés, who are absolute pros.
You have to tip your hat to the older ladies, though. Monique Fowler, the theater company’s co-founder and artistic director, commands the stage as Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother and the prototype for theatrical battleaxes since 1895. In the smaller but essential role of Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, Donna Snow is hysterical.
The production itself is a gem. Costumes are lovely and the detailed set, constructed by co-founder and general manager John Vivian, is a technical wonder — the very walls have to change before acts II and III. The only complaint from the audience was that the crew put up a screen to hide what must be a fascinating transition.
The setting outside isn’t so bad either. The 60-seat theater/barn is on a saltwater farm owned by Fowler’s family for nearly half a century, 150 acres of hayfields and woods on the Bagaduce River. Arrive early for a stroll.
Bagaduce is having a busy summer. Eugene O’Neill’s “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” and Eileen Atkins’ “Vita and Virginia” will be fully staged in July and September. July’s staged readings will be Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” and Colby Halloran’s “Bird of Passage.” The summer gala will be July 12, followed on July 15 by “What Would Shakespeare Say?” with actor, humorist and author Colin McPhillamy. Free classes are under way in voice, improvisation, acting, Shakespearean speech and stage management.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is at Bagaduce Theatre (the Fowler Farm, 176 Mills Point Road, Brooksville) through July 8, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Open seating tickets are $25. Reservations/information: www. bagaducetheatre.com or (207) 801-1536.