The Oklahoma State University Department of Theatre will present Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” as its next main stage production Nov. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m. in the Vivia Locke Theatre at the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts.
The play, written by British comedian Oscar Wilde, is directed by Assistant Professor Jodi Jinks. Wilde’s comedies are known for his critique of Victorian England’s social structure and a lighthearted approach to life. “The Importance of Being Earnest” is Wilde’s final play, written in 1894, and returns to his common theme of switched identities. The play remains Wilde’s most popular and successful play—it’s not uncommon to see professional productions mounted every year.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” follows the social lives of Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, played by junior Cody Finger and junior Tyler Burd. The two main characters engage in “bunburying,” in which they maintain two different identities: one in London and another one in the countryside of Hertfordshire. In their attempts to get out of boring social responsibilities, the men use their alternate identity as “Ernest” and flee to the countryside for irresponsible fun. Trouble follows them as their two identities collide with potential love interests, Gwendolen Fairfax, played by freshman Emily Frerich, and Cecily Cardew, played by sophomore Jackie Wieden. The play also features Peyton Meacham as Lady Augusta Bracknell, Killian Phelps as Dr. Frederick Chasuble, Maegan Schmidt as Miss Letitia Prism, Caleb Holmes as Merriman, and Titus Thompson as Lane.
As the play’s director, Jinks is especially captivated by Wilde’s writing and humor. She has been involved in several productions of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” both on and off stage. Despite her prior experience with the play, she plans on bringing something new and unexpected to the OSU Theatre production.
“We are straying from the more ‘typical’ production, primarily in terms of the technical aspects,” Jinks said. “I wanted the environment to be more whimsical and beautiful and ‘new.’”
While the play was written in 1894, the production team has decided to set their production ten years later. The change in time allows the production to have more creative freedom in both set design and costume design. The set is designed by scenic designer, Heidi Hoffer, and the costumes are designed and constructed by Assistant Professor Jeremey Bernardoni and Lecturer Christina Draper.
“Ours is still a period production, but the lines of the clothing styles have started to change with the turn of the century,” Bernardoni said. “The dresses are no longer Victorian, so we’ve had the ability to capture some whimsicality with the costumes. We can promise you a lavish design.”
While the set design will match the whimsical, lavish design of the costumes, they will still accurately portray life at the turn of the century but with a modern twist.
“At the turn of the century, homes would be full of furniture and clutter,” Hoffer said. “We wanted to steer away from the realism that too many set pieces communicate. There’s still a lot to see, but the stage has been opened up for the actors to have some fun.”
Finger, who plays Jack Worthing, is no stranger to the OSU theatre stage. He has performed in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Eurydice, These Shining Lives,” and “What I did Last Summer.” Finger has typically played younger, less mature characters, so he is looking forward to tackling new challenges in the role of an older, more serious Jack. All of the actors have been practicing their period movement, British accents and language for the last six weeks.
“This is a totally new type of play for me between the accent and the style of speech, so it’s a fun new challenge,” Finger said.
Nine films have been made of the play so far. Some notable actors who have played the play’s commanding matriarch, Lady Bracknell, include Dame Edith Evans, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and David Suchet. The 2002 film featured Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” runs Nov. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $12, senior (65+) tickets are $8 and student tickets are $7. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit theatre.okstate.edu or call (405) 744-6094.