Into the Wilde

By Darcie J. Flansburg

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Posted May 31, 2012 in Arts & Culture

The Importance of Being Earnest revels in the ridiculousness of Victorian propriety

We all have a little Bunburyist in us, and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a good reminder that honesty is the best policy or rather the truth will always come out.

After performing Earnest at their home base in San Jacinto, Inland Stage Company will tour the show to The Grove in Upland in June.

According to production director Yvonne Flack, The Importance of Being Earnest follows a cast of characters attempting to uphold the appearances of Victorian propriety while consciously (or subconsciously) subverting them.

“The play is a blatant criticism of Oscar Wilde’s Victorian London and the obsession with manners that created inhuman social robots out of its populace,” Flack says. “For our bumbling lovers, romance has more to do with fashion than deep-rooted affection.”

The two heroines of the play, Gwendolen and Cecily, are unrealistically obsessed with the idea of marrying a man called Earnest, a fashionable name at the time, and the fashion of the husband’s name takes precedence over the man behind the name. John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff thus both disguise themselves as men called Ernest in order to manipulate the affections of their respective loves.

“Each man hides behind carefully crafted fictions in order to hide his often scandalous and completely indecorous behavior,” Flack says. “In addition to his fictive name, John has created a fictive brother to excuse his frequent trips to London that he uses to escape the pressures of being a role model to his ward, Cecily.”

Algernon also created a useful permanent invalid called Bunbury to excuse his raucous “Bunburying” trips to the country. Similarly, Gwendolen and Cecily hide their true colors behind highly affected manners and girlish make-believe.

“The comedy of the play is derived from the moments when the veil of propriety slips and parasol sword fights and games of keep-away ensue,” Flack says.

This play is performed by a seasoned group of actors who have delved into the highly stylized approach to the work, under Flack’s direction.

“My favorite note to give throughout the rehearsal process has been, ‘If you feel ridiculous doing it, you’re probably doing it right,’” Flack says. “It was a joy to watch the zaniness build through the first run of the show and hear the audience’s equally enthusiastic response.”

Vanessa Downs plays the role of Cecily.

“Cecily is, I believe, a Bunyburyist at heart, which draws her to become attracted to Uncle John’s wicked younger brother: ‘Earnest’ Worthing,” Downs says.

Downs looks forward to reconnecting with her cast mates for the tour.

“This is an exciting show,” Downs says. “If you think you don’t like Wilde, come see The Importance of Being Earnest in Upland. It will change your mind!”

Monica Reichl plays the role of Gwendolen.

“It’s really exciting to get to perform in a new venue and to a new home audience,” Reichl says. “. . . Earnest will be a fast and furious comedy filled with Oscar Wilde’s very witty language. What I love about Wilde is that even though it was written so long ago, what he is skewering about society is still very current.”

According to Flack, the show was just gaining momentum when the first run closed. Needless to say, the cast is ready for another go.

“The best part of seeing a comedy like this performed live is that you really get a sense of the two-way, interactive experience that theatre is,” Flack says. “The more the audience gives, the more the actors give, and by the end of the evening the energy is electric.”

The Importance of Being Earnest at The Grove, 276 E. 9th St, Upland, (909) 920-4343; www.grovetheatre.com. June 1-10. Tickets $15-$20.


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