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“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde Is a Knee-Slapping Comedy About Leading a Double Life

The Aquila Theatre cast for "The Importance of Being Earnest" includes (from left) Guy Oliver-Watts as Algernon Moncrieff, Rebecca Reaney plays Cecily Cardew, Rachael Barrington as Gwendolen Fairfax, and Peter F. Gardiner as Jack Worthing (photo by Richard Termine)

The Aquila Theatre cast for "The Importance of Being Earnest" includes (from left) Guy Oliver-Watts as Algernon Moncrieff, Rebecca Reaney plays Cecily Cardew, Rachael Barrington as Gwendolen Fairfax, and Peter F. Gardiner as Jack Worthing (photo by Richard Termine)

N.C. State University Center Stage will present the Aquila Theatre of New York City in a modern-dress version of The Importance of Being Earnest, a knee-slapping comedy about leading a double life by Irish dramatist and wit Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12th, in the 800-seat Stewart Theatre on the second floor of the Talley Student Center, on the NCSU campus.

Subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” and set in various London locales and at John Worthing’s country estate in Hertfordshire, this classic Victorian comedy premiered on Valentine’s Day in 1895 at the St. James’s Theatre in London and marked the apex of Wilde’s career as a playwright. But its critically acclaimed run ended after only 83 performances, because of the scandal that erupted when the married playwright’s own double life — which involved a romantic liaison with Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945) — became public knowledge.

On its website, the Aquila Theatre claims:

“Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a perennial audience favorite, a play that overflows with razor sharp wit, sublime elegance and dizzy romantic comedy. Yet, Earnest has teeth and this biting satire of the vapid English aristocracy and their facile behavior made for an exciting opening night at the St. James Theatre in London’s West End on Valentine’s Day, 1895.

The Importance of Being Earnest tells the tale of Jack Worthing [Peter Gardiner] and Algernon Moncrieff [Guy Oliver-Watts], both young men who have taken to bending the truth to add a dash of excitement to their lives and secretly escape the social expectations of the English upper class exemplified by the quintessential matriarchal battle-ax, Lady Bracknell [Kern Falconer in drag].

“Jack has invented an imaginary brother, Ernest, whom he uses as an excuse to escape from his dull home in the country in order to frolic in town. Algernon has an imaginary friend, Bunbury, who provides a convenient excuse for taking adventures in the country. However, their deceptions eventually cross paths, resulting in a series of hilarious discoveries that threaten to spoil their romantic pursuits and strike at the very heart of the aristocracy’s obsession with birth, breeding and class.”

Kern Falconer and Guy Oliver-Watts also share the role of the Rev. Canon Chausible; Peter Gardiner doubles as Jack’s butler Merriman; Kern Falconer doubles as Algernon’s manservant Lane; Rebecca Reaney plays Cecily Cardew; and Rachael Barrington doubles as Gwendolen Fairfax and the governess Miss Prism.

The Aquila Theatre’s creative team for The Importance of Being Earnest includes director and production designer Desiree Sanchez, costume designer Kristy Leigh Hall, and staff director Eric Mercado, plus Aquila Theatre artistic director Peter Meineck and managing director Nate Terracio.

On its website, the Aquila Theatre adds:

“This new version of Earnest builds on the incredibly successful Aquila New York production staged in 2004, which proved to be one of the company’s most popular shows.

Theatermania wrote, ‘Oscar Wilde referred to The Importance of Being Earnest as a trivial comedy for serious people. This was a time when he didn’t have much regard for self-proclaimed serious people and wanted to do what he could to knock them off their assumptions and pretensions. The Aquila Theatre Company has roundly seconded that notion.’

The Irish Echo raved that Aquila’s production was ‘dazzlingly enjoyable.’ Aquila’s new production brings an all British cast of superb professional actors to the stage in a show that dazzles with wit, elegance, preposterous theatricality, hilariously wrought characters and delicious comedy.

The New York Times has described Aquila’s productions as ‘Gleefully engaging … almost unbearable fun … directed with inspiration and a beautiful use of physical humor,’ while The New Yorker has raved ‘Beautifully spoken, dramatically revealing and crystalline in effect.’

“Come and see why Oscar Wilde remains one of the best loved of most respected dramatists in the English language and why The Importance of Being Earnest is widely considered his finest play.”

Formed in London in 1991 by Peter Meineck, the Aquila Theatre moved its headquarters to New York City in 1999 to become the professional company-in-residence at New York University’s Center for Ancient Studies. The Aquila Theatre’s uproarious rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest — first presented in February 2003 by N.C. State University Center Stage — is the 10th Aquila Theatre production to be presented as part of this critically acclaimed series. Guy Oliver-Watts, who played Algernon Moncrieff in Aquila’s 2003 presentation, reprises that role in the current production.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 2, 2003 Raleigh, NC CVNC (Classical Voice of North Carolina) preview and Feb. 12, 2003 review, both by Robert W. McDowell, click http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=652 and http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=653, respectively.

N.C. State University Center Stage presents the Aquila Theatre in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 in Stewart Theatre on the second floor of the Talley Student Center, 2610 Cates Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27695, on the NCSU campus.

TICKETS: $26-$30 ($5 N.C. State students, $16 non-NCSU students, and $21-$25 NCSU faculty and staff).

BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=22089&event_val=EARN.

SHOW: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/currentseason/aquilaearnest.html and http://aquilatheatre.com/touring/the-importance-of-being-earnest/.

SEASON: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/currentseason/index.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/.

VENUE: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/stewart/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/mapsanddirections.html.

NOTE: There will be a preshow discussion with a member of the cast, starting at 7 p.m. in the Walnut Room.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play (background): http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/t/the-importance-of-being-earnest/ (Victoria and Albert Museum) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest (Wikipedia).

The Play (e-text): http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/844 (Project Gutenberg).

The Play (study guide): http://bard.org/education/studyguides/Importance/earnest.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

The Playwright: http://www.oscarwildesociety.co.uk/ (Oscar Wilde Society) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Wilde (Wikipedia).

Aquila Theatre: http://aquilatheatre.com/ (official website).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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