Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” opened on January 13 at the American Airlines Theatre. This production originated at the Stratford Shakespeare...

Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” opened on January 13 at the American Airlines Theatre. This production originated at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada.

Brian Bedford stars in and directs this 116-year-old witty commentary on 19th century mores, playing the role of dowager Lady Bracknell. Originally titled “The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” the comedy is set in 1895 in the English countryside. The plot develops around the confusion between the name “Ernest,” a man’s name and proper noun, and “earnest,” a word meaning steadfastness and seriousness.

As a play based on mistaken identity, the characters John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff chase after Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew. They succeed in pulling the wool over the sharp eyes of Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother. Along the way, the show pokes fun at 19th century codes of propriety and etiquette. It was an overwhelming success on its opening night at the St. James Theatre in London. Its theme of social hypocrisy remains germane to this day.

The supporting cast includes Dana Ivey as Miss Prism, Paxton Whitehead as Reverend Chasuble, Santino Fontana as Algernon Moncrieff, David Furr as Jack Worthing, Tim MacDonald as Merriman, Paul O’Brien as Lane, Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew and Sara Topham as Gwendolyn.

The 740-seat American Airlines Theatre hosted four weeks of previews beginning December 17 with an average capacity of 89 percent. Regular ticket prices range from $72 to $122. Average paid admission over the course of previews was $50.95. Gross ticket sales were $269,557 for the week ending January 9 according to numbers from the Broadway League.

Performances are scheduled Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The theater is dark on Mondays. Special 7 p.m. performances are scheduled for February 22 and March 4.

The American Airlines Theatre is located at 227 West 42 Street between 7th & 8th Avenues. “The Importance of Being Earnest” runs two hours, twenty minutes, including two intermissions. Scheduling and ticketing details are available on the production’s official Web site.

Opening Night: “The Importance of Being Earnest”

Variety Marilyn Stasio “As the arbiter of all matters of good taste, even the uncompromising Lady Bracknell would agree that, from top to bottom, this is one fine cast.”
New York Times Charles Isherwood “…it is in the expert handling of Wilde’s filigreed language that his (Brian Bedford’s) portrayal most enchants. Here is a rare stage performance in which, truly, every word is made to count.”
New York Post Elizabeth Vincentinelli “This “Being Earnest” is like a big, comfortable Cadillac: You may not get brisk accelerations or unexpected flair, but the show has old-fashioned good looks and rides smoothly.”
Playbill Kenneth Jones “…comedy of epigrams, mistaken identity, cucumber sandwiches and English breakfast tea — has fully steeped.”
New York Daily News Joe Dziemianowicz “Though the new Broadway revival of Oscar Wilde’s satire isn’t quite a nonstop delight — it takes too long to rev up — it makes for an enjoyable evening.”
Associated Press Mark Kennedy “Beneath the drag casting and the luxurious costumes and the confection of words, Wilde left a complex work for the ages.”