Oscar Wilde masterpiece lends a touch of class and wit The Importance of Being Earnest Comedy by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Philip Campanella.

The Samuel Beckett Theatre has enlivened a humdrum season with a fresh helping of Oscar Wilde. The revival of ``The Importance of Being Earnest,'' crisply staged by Philip Campanella, is handsome, well tempered, and stylish. The actors respond to the beauties of Wilde's language as well as to the wit, humor, and farcical absurdities of his masterpiece. The preview I attended began somewhat deliberately. (Not every pause is a pause that refreshes.) But the players seemed to grow increasingly at ease as the absurd confusions and complications of the foolery accumulated. With the performance at its best, the tiny Beckett Theatre resounded with laughter.

The revival casts Dina Merrill as Lady Bracknell. While Miss Merrill may not be everybody's idea of that femme formidable, she delivers Lady Bracknell's sweeping pronouncements with a hauteur that quells contradiction. That Miss Merrill is so youthful and good-looking a dragon does no particular harm to the part or the play.

Samuel Maupin's John Worthing is as solemnly dedicated as any unworldly young ward could desire, even when he is deceptively mourning the demise of a wicked brother, ``Ernest,'' whom he has invented to furnish a pretext for periodic trips to London. As the insouciant Algernon Moncrieff, Anthony Fusco munches cucumber sandwiches and muffins or plans a ``Bunburying'' excursion with an equal air of serious superciliousness.

Cynthia Dozier plays the handsome Gwendolyn, Lady Bracknell's daughter, in a manner that matches guile and feminism without compromising the aristocratic tone. Cherry Jones's Cecily Cardew (the aforementioned ward) is as mischievous as she is pretty -- a combination calculated to sweep Algy off his aristocratic feet. The two actresses have a lovely comic time with the scene in which the young ladies mistakenly think they are rivals for the same ``Ernest.''

Carmella Ross's sentimental Miss Prism and William Denis's fuddy-duddy Canon Chasuble contribute admirably to the joys of this lighthearted revival. The production is always a pleasure to look at, thanks to David R. Ballou's airy settings, Jackie Manassee's lighting, and Peggy Farrell's decorative costumes. Ghashiram Kotwal Play by Vijay Tendulkar, translated by Eleanor Zelliot and Jayant Karve. Directed by Tisa Chang.

The Pan Asian Repertory Theatre has what is described as the largest, most elaborate undertaking in its nine-year history and also its first presentation of an Asian Indian work. The drama is ``Ghashiram Kotwal,'' by Vijay Tendulkar, a leading contemporary Indian playwright. Eleanor Zelliot and Jayant Karve have made the colloquial English translation from the Marthi language.

Set in Pune in the late 18th century, the play depicts the way vengeance corrupts Ghashiram, powerfully acted by Ismail Abou-El-Kanater. An alien falsely accused of theft, Ghashiram determines to get even with the local Brahmans. He pays for his appointment as district kotwal (police chief) by allowing his beautiful daughter to become a mistress of the manipulative and lecherous local administrator (Mel Duane Gionson). Ghashiram's relentlessly cruel punishments, inflicted on innocent and gu ilty alike, eventually bring about his own downfall.

``Ghashiram Kotwal'' unfolds with the simplicity of a parable and the elaborateness of a symbolic folk theater piece. It requires a cast of 20 and three very essential percussionists to perform the original score by Bhaskar Chandavarkar. Employing a combination of techniques, director Tisa Chang and choreographer Rajika Puri have collaborated on a production in which individual characterizations emerge from a continuity of choral expression, mime, and dance movement.

Norris M. Shimabuku holds the mosaic of scenes together as the play's cynically humorous narrator-commentator. The overall achievement is impressive. As a result, the remote and often violent events of Mr. Tendulkar's morality play gain immediacy for even the uninitiated spectator. The production is visually enhanced by Atsushi Moriyasu's raked stage setting beneath a large bas-relief, Victor En Yu Tan's lighting, and Eiko Yamaguchi's colorful costumes. `Earnest' produced as Oscar Wilde wrote it

Oscar Wilde's original four-act ``Importance of Being Earnest'' was given its world premi`ere at John Carroll University in Cleveland last week.

In 1894, Wilde sold the acting rights for ``Earnest'' in four acts to London producer and theater owner George Alexander. Also one of London's most popular leading men, Alexander did not hesitate to change a play to suit his purpose. With ``Earnest,'' Alexander insisted that Wilde eliminate an entire act of the play and increase the importance of Jack, the role that he chose for himself.

Wilde resisted Alexander's ruthless cutting of the play, and was banished from rehearsals. When Wilde went backstage after the first performance, Alexander asked him what he thought of the play. ``My dear Aleck,'' said Wilde, ``It was charming, quite charming. And, do you know, from time to time I was reminded of a play I once wrote myself, called ``The Importance of Being Earnest.''

Alexander's revised three-act ``Earnest'' is currently done. The original Wilde typescript was ``lost'' until Ruth Berggren (then a doctoral student, now a professor at John Carroll) stumbled across the manuscript in 1977 in the New York Public Library. After entering the collection in a large 1968 bequest, the manuscript had been cataloged, but no one had realized what it was. When Ms. Berggren heard that director William Kennedy was planning to do ``Earnest'' on campus, she offered the original .

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