The Importance of Being Earnest: Oscar Wilde’s classic play at the Stanley through April 15

You may not know Ryan Beil – the star of the Arts Club’s new production of The Importance of Being Earnest – by name.   But I’m pretty sure you’d recognize his face.

The Vancouver born-and-raised actor plays the nerdy burger flipper in the A&W Mama Burger commercials, like the one above.  And if he’s that funny in a 30-second ad, imagine what he could do with in a three-act production of one of the wittiest plays ever written in English.

Beil steals the show in the Arts Club’s The Importance of Being Earnest, playing at the Stanley through April 15.  His stiff delivery and nasal voice (not always assets in theatre) are perfectly suited to the so-called “trivial comedy for serious people,” penned by Oscar Wilde in 1895.  Even if you’re not a theatre buff, you’ll probably get a kick out of watching Beil posture on stage in waistcoats and top hats for a few hours.  I did.  The Importance of Being Earnest is a satire that borders on farce.  It’s confusing and a bit hard to explain, but that’s partly the point.  Country gentleman Jack Worthing (Beil) invents an alter ego, Ernest, which he assumes whenever he visits the city.  In the guise of Ernest, he meets the lovely Gwendolen – who falls in love with him.

Charlie Gallant and Ryan Beil in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by David Cooper.

Things really heat up when Gwendolen pays a visit to his country estate and his two identities collide.  Of course, there’s more to the story than that – including another “Ernest” who shows up unexpectedly, a crotchety future mother-in-law and the unseen Bunbury.  But it all comes down to an old-fashioned comedy of mistaken identity.

What you get is a unique mix of razor wit and slapstick, as the characters satirize the stuffy conventions on marriage and propriety in Victorian England.  Of special note in the Arts Club’s production are the surrealistic sets:  car-sized top hats and enormous hand mirrors that speak to the vanity and self-absorption of that era (and maybe ours, too).

Last but not least, you also get the thrill of watching the A&W Mama Burger guy recite one of the classic lines in theatre at the end of the play: “I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.”

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