Rayann Houghlin Walker & Jordan Aiken in The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo: Jay Padilla-Hayter

The Importance of Being Earnest

By Oscar Wilde
Directed by Jay Padilla-Hayter

A review by Regina Harris

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Regina Harris. All rights reserved.

Highview Arts Center audiences had to wait an extra week for the opening of Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, due to cast/crew illness but that seemed to make the audience even more eager to embrace this staple of community theatre. Written during the Victorian period, Wilde aimed his laser sharp societal perception at the hypocrisy of the upper crust and its emphasis on personal pedigree.

Director Jay Padillia-Hayter’s signature comedic style, tending towards the farcical, bordering on slapstick, was evident in the exuberance of the actors’ performances. Set in current day Lexington, Kentucky, the presumed goal was to bring a modern twist to Wilde’s social commentary making the stilted Victorian language more accessible to a modern Kentucky audience. 

The actors provided laughter in abundance, particularly Jake Rosenberger as Lane (and Dr. Chasuble) skulking in the background of the opening scenes, eavesdropping through windows and around corners to the glee of the audience. Clara Burton as Jack and Rachel Meadors as Algernon gave convincing performances as two social aspirants plotting to woo and win their intended spouses. For their parts, the two subjects of Jack and Algernon’s love, wealthy ingénue Gwendolyn (Jordan Aiken) and the sweet, innocent ward Cecily (Rayann Houghlin) embraced their roles with elements of caricature, adding to the comic effects of the play.

The role of the formidable Lady Bracknell (upon whose approval the lovers’ ability to marry is based) is appropriately intimidating as performed by Ann Moss, who commands the stage from the moment she enters wearing a rich and powerful shade of red. 

Rounding out the cast are Dawn Moretz as Miss Prism, the delightfully ditzy governess-turned-novelist; and Allison McKiernan as Merriman, whose zany antics as the beleaguered butler also greatly entertained the audience. 

Regarding the lighting, there was a gray space in the center of the stage. Additionally, the unfortunate placement of an aisle spotlight (meant to illuminate the house-left aisle) shone directly on the greenroom door which not only left the actors accessing that aisle in the dark, but also hit those of us at the raised back of the house directly and uncomfortably in the eyes. Likewise, the lobby house lights were at eye level, making it difficult to make my way from the dark theatre into the bright lobby during each of the two intermissions. I’m sure that was an opening night snafu that will be corrected in future performances. There was no notable sound other than the somewhat confusing choice of Italian restaurant accordion music in the opening and closing scenes.

Overall, Highview Art Center’s earnest production was a fun and entertaining throwback to a beloved theatre standard. Sadly, there are only three more opportunities to catch it.

The Importance of Being Earnest

September 21, 22, and 23 @ 7:30 pm
September 24 @ 2:30 pm 

Highview Arts Center
7406 Fegenbush Lane
Louisville, KY 40206

Regina Harris has lived in Louisville for nearly three decades and has, at various times, worked for many of its premier theatre companies and venues. She earned a degree in Humanities from University of Louisville and currently works as a Youth Development Specialist at United Crescent Hill Ministries. To express her love for great food as well as Louisville history and architecture, she is a tour guide with Louisville Food Tours.