Featured / Mosaic / May 17, 2017

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ provides opportunity for comedy

Seniors Tristan Yi and Padraig Sullivan speak with one another about relationships, names and delicious cucumber sandwiches during the opening act of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which debuted in Harbach Theatre Wednesday, May 10 and ran until May 13. (Mitch Prentice/TKS)

Professor of Theatre and Director of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ Neil Blackadder wanted to offer the opportunity for students to put on a comedic production as well as one set in a specific time period. As the previous two shows this season have dealt with darker and heavier themes, Blackadder noted that the satirical nature of Oscar Wilde’s, “The Importance of Being Earnest” appealed to students as well as other faculty involved.

“It’s something much lighter, a comedy that demands a different kind of acting,” he said. “It’s a very witty play that requires a certain kind of style in the acting as well as in the design.”

While depicting a love story, the play satirizes many of the conventions present in the upper class Victorian Era. According to Blackadder, the play pokes fun at arranged marriages, class issues and different codes of behavior. Though he feels that the show contains elements of humor, he tried to direct it in such a way that seemed more realistic than intentionally comedic.

Senior Jordan Hurst debates the marriage of her daughter in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” (Mitch Prentice/TKS)

“These characters speak in a way that nobody ever would speak in real life. Almost everything they say is witty, yet I didn’t want the actors to deliver the lines in such a way that seemed like they were just waiting for the laughter that would come after each witty remark,” Blackadder said. “So that’s one of the things we’ve spent a lot of time on is trying to make it seem believable at the same time as it’s being totally not believable.”

Freshman Raven Ringe, who plays Cecily Cardew, feels that the point of the show was to entertain and that the major themes aren’t as relevant to the audience as they were at the time Wilde wrote it.

“Oscar Wilde’s attempt at making fun of the upper class and how they made such a big deal about all these and how they weren’t as important as one would think,” Ringe said. “They go on and on about names and the number of lumps of sugar in tea and it’s just Wilde trying to make fun of the upper class. They were the ones who were coming to see the show, since they could afford it, so he was trying to make it more subtle and satirical.”

Senior Tristan Yi, who played Algernon Moncrieff in the production, also feels that his goal was to approach his character in a way that was humorous without being over the top. He found it difficult to find the balance between being realistic while maintaining an aspect of comedy and delivering the lines in a way that rid the script of its intended humor. He also felt that the notoriety of the script added a lot of pressure.

“There’s a lot of precedent for the script, everyone loves the show and knows the show or has at least heard about it. There’s a lot to live up to,” Yi said. “But also, the script uses a lot of the same phrases a lot. Sometimes I have to catch myself not to say one line that close to the actual line I’m supposed to say.”

Senior Padraig Sullivan, who had the role as Jack Worthing, also felt that the script posed a challenge in regard to the comedic and witty nature of the characters. He found that the sentence structure was lengthier than how modern language is and that each line required immense precision that didn’t allow for much room for mistakes.

“It’s very well written and very poetic. But also, the characters themselves are all just a little bit more clever than real people are, which is fun but you also have to remember that they are always snapping back at each other or saying something pointed or in some clever way,” Sullivan said. “You can’t just sort of toss a line out, you can’t idly say something like we would. Every single sentence is a joke and everything matters.”

Sophomore Sonya Fleming talks with their acquaintance in the garden during “The Importance of Being Earnest.” (Mitch Prentice/TKS)

As the production progressed, Ringe’s interpretation of Cecily developed from viewing her as a naive, oblivious girl to viewing her as an intelligent woman who knows how to get what she wants. Since first reading the play as a sophomore in high school, Ringe said that she had from then on wanted to play the role of Cecily.

In addition to her own personal character development, Ringe noted that freshman Allison Stout, who was the Dramaturg in the production, pointed out how several characters eventually drew parallels to each other. As the Dramaturg, Stout had the responsibility of knowing as much about the playwright’s vision as possible, and consulting with the actors to provide feedback on their performances.

“Toward the end of the show we’re talking in unison. I just thought that was incredible because I didn’t realize how similar all of us really were, which is another thing of Oscar Wilde’s where I think he was trying to point to the upper class saying that they’re all the same, and that they don’t see that but they’re just copies of each other,” Ringe said.

Approaching the final show, Sullivan wanted to take all of what he learned from the previous nights, as well as his previous years at Knox, and portray his character to the fullest potential. He feels that, though his character developed during rehearsals, seeing the production completely put together as well as the energy from the audience helped him figure out who his character actually was.

Sam Jacobson, Co-Mosaic Editor

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