By Sarah Downs

First there was Ernest, now there is FrankThe Rewards of Being Frank, presented by the New York Classical Theatre, a sequel to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, is a delightful and much needed escape from our late winter doldrums.  Shed your preoccupations, put down the phone, tear up your ‘to do’ list and come enjoy the farce.

Cecily Montcrieff (a charming and piquante Tora Nogami Alexander) is bored.  7 years of marriage to Algernon (a sprightly James Evans in excellent comedic form) have dimmed the couple’s amorous glow.  Dearest friend Gwendolen, (an elegant and spirited Kelly Mengelkoch) now relation by marriage, is equally adrift.  The life of the upper middle class woman, punctuated by tea and shopping, occasional child bearing and more tea, and their indolent husbands, for whom life is a dizzying parade of club/park/haberdasher (and, of course, tea) no-one could be said to enjoy a life of sparkling intellectual ferment.

This is particularly hard on Gwendolen, who on the advice of her mother, the domineering Lady Bracknell (a deliciously haughty Christine Pedi) abandoned her education and dreams of sophistication to aim low, maritally speaking.  That way she would not be disappointed.  As an overachiever, Gwendolen succeeded beyond expectation when she married Ernest (an endearingly blustery Jeremy Dubin) who moves with cat like tread, or at least aspires to.  No brain trust he.

Lady Bracknell — the great dowager with her unsmiling authority still has everyone quaking in his or her boots.  Pedi, a gleam in her eye even when she stares balefully is marvelously authoritative and funny.  She holds stage easily, pacing her work to allow different aspects of her character to be revealed over time.  Her presence helps to anchor the whirlwind of fluttering hearts and teetering morals that surround her.  La Bracknelle is also full of surprises.

Enter the X factor, a/k/a Frank (a gentlemanly scoundrel Moboluwaji Ademide Akintilo).  He is charming; he is dangerous; he’s new.  Ostensibly there to interview to be the children’s tutor, Frank seems more interested in flirting than educating.  He knows what he wants, which is more than we can say for Algernon and his tagalong brother Ernest.  Frank understands the power of pheromones; Algernon understands that power of fashion, including the authority of a man in hunting jacket and tweed knickerbockers, and Ernest understands he’s best served staying on his wife’s good side.  Easier said than done.  Rainy Edwards easily conveys the era with lovely dresses in saturated hues and appropriately layered men’s suits, including said tweed knickerbockers.

The set, by Samantha Reno, is terrific.  Oriental rugs and shelves of books set us in the comfortably posh Victorian setting of town.  By contrast, the country house garden is all sunshine.  White roses climb an upstage trellis, behind white wicker table and chairs.  And is that a Royal Doulton tea set I see?  Justen N. Locke dapples the garden tile with light as through a canopy of leaves.

Spirits were particularly high on Sunday, as this was opening night.  The play’s pace would benefit from a teensy bit of waxing and waning. I expect the actors will relax a little into the rhythm of their various characterizations – insouciant Cecily, gleaming Gwendolen, springy Algernon, tagalong Ernest, and stately Lady Bracknell.  Akintilo could stand to have more affect as he bounces among these personalities.  Is he leonine seducer or opportunist?   I would love for the actors to relish their lines more (as Cecily might say: I mean the action, not the condiment).  This is a mere quibble, however, as the overall effect is one of delight.  Who can resist word play, double takes and a bit of camp?  And it all started with a Gladstone bag.

The Rewards of Being Frank, by Alice Scovell, directed by Stephen Burdman.  With:  Moboluwaji Ademide Akintilo, James Evans, Kelly Mengelkoch, Tora Nogami Alexander, Jeremy Dubin, and Christine Pedi.

Scenic design is by Samantha Reno, costume design is by Rainy Edwards, lighting design is by Justen N. Locke and sound design is by Alex Brock.

Performances through March 26th, at Mezzanine Theatre at ART/New York Theatres (502 West 53rd Street)  Make reservations here: TICKETS, or for reservations for six or more, please call (212) 233-6496.  Run time 2 hours with one 10 minute intermission.  Mask wearing is optional.