Falsehoods fly in ‘Importance of Being Earnest’
Theatrical troupe stages play Feb. 13-16
By Scott Bellile
Although “The Importance of Being Earnest” debuted 124 years ago in London, the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe trusts the Oscar Wilde classic will leave a modern-day American audience in stitches.
“It definitely challenges the actors as well as the audience because it’s a comedy, but it’s a comedy of wit. … You actually have to think about it, and then once you do, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious,” Director Michael Laskowski said.
The WRTT’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” will run Feb 13-16 at 7 p.m. each night. The Saturday, Feb. 16 date will include an additional 2 p.m. matinee show.
All performances take place at Real Opportunities Outreach, 304 St. John’s Place, New London. Tickets cost $15 each. To order, call Judy McDaniel at 920-982-6060.
“It is definitely a comedy,” Laskowski said of the play. “The reason why I like it so much is because I love social commentary.”
Laskowski’s favorite contemporary humorists include Jon Stewart, Seth MacFarlane and Wanda Sykes. Just as these satirists riff on 21st-century politics, culture and race relations in the U.S., Laskowski said Wilde’s writing delivered sharp takes on Victorian British society.
A primary target of Wilde’s commentary in “The Importance of Being Earnest” is British aristocracy.
The upper-class aristocrats saw nobility in their manners, proper dress and law-abiding natures, but Wilde perceived ignorance and hypocrisy in their customs. The playwright knew many of these privileged individuals headed off to taverns or brothels when nobody was watching, Laskowski said.
“With the aristocracy, appearances were everything, and that is definitely one of the main themes of this play,” Laskowski said.
“Earnest” is in the play’s name, but dishonesty is central to the plot.
Wilde’s story follows two wealthy men, Jack Worthling (Dalton Zanin) and Algernon Moncrieff (Tyler Wood), who employ deception to get their way.
Algernon, a London man, invented an imaginary friend in the country whom he often makes excuses to visit to lie his way out of bland social engagements.
Meanwhile, Jack, a country man, created a pretend brother named Ernest whom he frequently cites as a reason for traveling to London. Once in London, Jack pretends to people he is the flirtatious socialite Ernest.
During Act 1 set in London, Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Tierney Potter), agrees to marry Jack believing he is actually Ernest.
Later in Act 2 at Jack’s country estate, Algernon is posing as Jack’s fictional brother Ernest when he proposes to Cecily Cardew (Tara Gulbrandsen), who is the granddaughter of Jack’s adoptive father. She accepts believing Algernon is Ernest.
The men’s lies get farcically out of hand and spiral from there.
Wood, who plays Algernon, said the play’s humor is dry, witty and unexpected, like that of his favorite British comedy: Monty Python, “Fawlty Towers” and Ricky Gervais’s “The Office.”
He said he hopes the audience laughs and has a good time.
“For how old the show is, the jokes still surprisingly hold up today,” Wood said.
The play’s cast also includes Joey Larsen as Lady Bracknell, Tom Vinje as Dr. Chasuble, Debra Barkoltz as Miss Prism and David Woosencraft as Lane and Merriman.