Earnest shocks crowds with bold directing choices

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Image: Susie Sprinkel Hudson

If you lack your own diary for sensational reading in long train rides, there is still something exciting to occupy your time.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is welcomed onto the stage once more for its closing weekend at the Lyceum Theatre. This comedy of errors has little error at all, as the actors carry this Oscar Wilde classic with a twist

In order to further the social commentary already present in the original work, director Sue Berkampos chose to genderswap the the two leads and their love interests.

As a lover of the play I was unsettled, to say the least, about the idea of tampering with the vision of Wilde, who was already adamant in his critique of society. Though the genderswap took some time to digest for someone familiar with the play, it did not distract from the overall wit and commentary of the original work. In fact, I would argue it added to the humor and further pressed the audience to evaluate the concepts introduced by Wilde.

The production follows two friends who both live double lives under the pretense of having (imaginary) friends. Jackie–the moniker given to Jack’s female counterpart–runs about London under the illusion of taking care of her wicked sister, Ernest. Algy often must call on her invented, invalid friend, Mr. Bunburry, whose poor help often draws her to his side. The girls find themselves in quite a jam when their “bunburrying,” as Algy calls it, turns them into people they definitely are not.

Junior Alexis Starry, as Algy, and sophomore Marissa Del Gatto, as Jackie, had an undeniable chemistry on stage that worked well with the loving yet strained relationship between them. Starry’s physical comedy helped develop her character into an endearing trouble maker, while Del Gatto embodied her “guardian” role well. The genderswap on both roles added both humor and surprise to the dialogue.

In order to keep the Victorian era of the play while allowing a slightly more technological aspect, the production took on a steampunk theme. The industrial feel found its way into the set and costumes–which were very fun and beautiful–but it did not appear to add to the production or plot in any way other than aesthetically.

An aspect of the show that did touch deeply was the depiction of the two young men, Gwyn (senior Greg Spralding) and Cecil (freshman Zachary Guevin) based off Gwendolyn and Cecily in the original. I was worried this would become a cheap shot at gender  Surprisingly, the two men created a stunning contrast between their appearances and their words and actions, causing nothing but laughter. Instead, it added a new layer because the audience was able to take the commentary without being concerned with sexism.

Another unexpected gem was found in Bethany Huang, who doubled as Lane and Merriam, the servants for Algy and Jackie, respectively. Though the costume for Lane was more distracting than advantageous, Huang’s gentle demeanor allowed for a quietly humorous bystander who brought sanity and irony opposite those of high society.

Without a doubt, it was sophomore Andreas Schmidt who shocked the audience the most with his boisterous rendition of Lady Bracknell, the audacious aunt of Algy who embodies the satire of high society. In an unconventional tradition, Bracknell is often played by a man, but Schmidt still made the role completely his own. With over-dramatic gestures and a ridiculous accent, he captured Wilde’s vision perfectly.

Though Schmidt’s portrayal was an audience favorite, I must say I was slightly disappointed in the costume choice. Perhaps in concordance with the steampunk theme, Bracknell was not clothed in a full dress, but rather loose pants with an intricate train designed to give him quite the caboose. However, the makeup design was appropriate to create a perfectly contrived caricature- harsh, overdone, and colorful.

Overall, the production was quite enjoyable and well received by the audience. The witty commentary kept everyone laughing, and the strained relationships between the characters promised humor. Even the subplot of Reverend Chasuble (Parker Simmons) and Miss Prism (Zoë Zamora) is a love story filled with societal critiques and perfectly awkward moments. Though there are a few disappointments, the show was well worth the time. You had to be quick on your feet to catch every line, but you were sure to hang onto every word.

This is the last weekend to see the Lyceum Theatre’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” There will be performances Friday and Saturday night, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Tickets are available for purchase at vanguardtickets.com, with Vanguard student rush tickets available for five dollars at the door.

Tess Kellogg
is an academic senior at Vanguard. She is the editor-in-chief for the Voice.

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