Nora Montanez

Pendulum Theatre Company; at the Loading Dock Theater through February 2

Some of the best moments in this confident take on Oscar Wilde's farce take place when there are only two performers on the stage. In one scene, the young Cecily (Jane Froiland) trades acidic barbs with Gwendolyn (Corissa White) while the pair spar over the misconception that they are engaged to the same (semi-fictitious) fellow. In another, the enraged Jack (Ryan Parker Knox) does verbal battle with friend and co-conspirator Algernon (Wade A. Vaughn) while squabbling over who deserves ownership of a coveted dish of muffins. If you're over-familiar with the play, its machinations can wear thin as the night goes on, but under Craig Johnson's direction this thing bristles with life and a series of ace performances. Vaughn is delightful from the offset, beaming with self-satisfaction and insincerity, spewing Wilde's witticisms with the air of someone too titillated by the varieties of experience to ever wallow in real cynicism. The plot itself, a dramatic éclair about mistaken identity, wedding conspiracies, and high-society rules and regulations, is pretty much beside the point. Wilde's real ax to grind is with the conventional in all its forms, and he has a firm conviction in the total lack of depth to romantic and religious sentiment. No one here embodies this spirit more than Karen Wiese-Thompson as Lady Bracknell, who stands in the way of Jack and Gwendolyn's nuptials until a good deal of money is laid on the table. Wiese-Thompson is obviously having a lot of fun, laying hard on the society matron's accent (so many of her hard T's turn to soft C's that you're liable to walk out talking funny yourself) and generously ladling out icy disapproval and oceans of snobbery. White is by turns sultry and daft (speaking names and goofily staring into the distance to feel the tenor of the vibrations they make), and ultimately she and Froiland deliver the sense that each of these women is in love with fictions, which the male leads are more than happy to provide. It's a lampoon of life that nicely bites.

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