Archive for ‘Theatre’

May 7th, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; A sort-of review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Importance of Being Earnest

Author: Oscar Wilde

(First) Published: 1895

Number of Pages: 76

Rating: 5/5


Oscar Wilde’s madcap farce about mistaken identities, secret engagements, and lovers entanglements still delights readers more than a century after its 1895 publication and premiere performance. The rapid-fire wit and eccentric characters of The Importance of Being Earnest have made it a mainstay of the high school curriculum for decades.

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

This Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Edition includes a glossary and reader’s notes to help the modern reader appreciate Wilde’s wry wit and elaborate plot twists. [From Goodreads]


First of all: Long time, no… blog.

It seems I’ve disappeared for the past few months. Not simply from Wordbird, but from all of cyberspace, aside from the unnecessary amount of time I spent on facebook. Since January, I’ve been tackling homework in addition to extracurriculars, and I have been forced to put other parts of my life on hold – namely, reading, writing, and blogging. Unless it’s a textbook, it’s probably not going to be read. Unless it’s an assignment, it’s not going to be written. The same applies to blogging. Fortunately, my AP Language and Composition teacher has recently given us an assignment to blog, thereby granting me the time to return to the few readers who have stuck around. I am so grateful to be back, and even more grateful to find that not all of you are gone. Thank you.

And, finally, the actual post:

In January of this year, I had the privilege of becoming Black Swan Youth Theatre‘s assistant director of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, a play set in the 1890’s that is, as I wrote in a recent press release,

…a story of comical misunderstandings, strange coincidences, and ample mischief. The Importance of Being Earnest combines humor and satire with immaculate prose.

The language is the most fascinating aspect of the script. Every sentence is perfectly phrased and nearly poetic. I can recall so many lines because of the fluid way in which one sentence flows to the next. The fantastic thing about the beautiful language is that it manages to be beautiful and absolutely hilarious. My director, Susan Scott, and I paid close attention to every word and made every actor accountable for stating things perfectly because each sentence is such a gem.

Here is just one bunch of “gems”:

Lady Bracknell. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
Jack. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.
Lady Bracknell. A hand-bag?
Jack. [Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag – a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it an ordinary hand-bag in fact.
Lady Bracknell. In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?
Jack. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.
Lady Bracknell. The cloak-room at Victoria Station?
Jack. Yes. The Brighton line.
Lady Bracknell. The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a social indiscretion – has probably, indeed, been used for that purpose before now-but it could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognized position in good society.
Jack. May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolens happiness.
Lady Bracknell. I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

Of course, that excerpt is rather confusing out of context, but it gives you an idea of the cleverness I’m talking about. The satiric story that Oscar Wilde crafts is the sort that makes you savor every word and chuckle at every comment. I was thrilled to work with such a magnificent piece of literature.

Furthermore, The Importance of Being Earnest is the first play I’ve participated in. After the performances in early March (we had a mere month and a half to pull it together), no one wanted to let it go. Naturally, we were all ecstatic when Susan told us we’d be taking the play to the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June. If you’re interested in seeing it, take a look here. I would love to meet you!

But back to the play…

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the story is the attachment a reader has to all the characters. This rascally, ridiculous bunch become irresistibly endearing, despite their less admirable qualities: pride, arrogance, ignorance, etc. Though Wilde intended to criticize (with a smile!) the upper classes of 19th Century England, he did so in a way that does not make them seem blatantly terrible. I appreciated this acknowledgment that, well, not everybody can be all that bad. Algernon Moncrieff, in particular, is a silly, cocky man, but anyone who sees or reads the play will absolutely adore him. Here’s a peak at Algy’s fantastic silliness:

Cecily. I can’t understand how you are here at all. Uncle Jack won’t be back till Monday afternoon.
Algernon. That is a great disappointment. I am obliged to go up by the first train on Monday morning. I have a business appointment that I am anxious… to miss?
Cecily. Couldn’t you miss it anywhere but in London?
Algernon. No: the appointment is in London.
Cecily. Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you about your emigrating.
Algernon. About my what?
Cecily. Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.
Algernon. I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all.
Cecily. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.
Algernon. Australia! I’d sooner die.
Cecily. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Algernon. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.
Cecily. Yes, but are you good enough for it?
Algernon. I’m afraid I’m not that.

Come to think of it, Cecily’s pretty cute in there, too. See what I mean? You just can’t get enough of them!

I earnestly (lame joke) recommend reading The Importance of Being Earnest, whether you come to the show or not, because of its immense literary value. I can assure you that you will laugh on every page. However, seeing it performed (by Black Swan or in the movie) is a priceless experience. Wilde wrote the story for the stage, and it is only there that the characters truly become real. Participating in theatre has made me realize the potential stories have to come as close to reality as they can, and working with Black Swan has been the highlight of my last few months. We’re now working on Disney’s Mulan, a shocking change from Oscar Wilde, but still exciting and fun. Performances for Mulan will be June 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 9th.

I must reiterate: take the time to read this play. It takes less than a day, but it will amuse you for much longer.