Heartland Theatre Company and director Don LaCasse have announced who'll be pretending to be Earnest (spoiler alert: there is no Earnest or Ernest) when Oscar Wilde's delightful period comedy The Importance of Being Earnest opens September 7th.
The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed in 1895, which is also when it's set. Earnest takes place in fashionable English settings like a London flat and the garden of a country house, and its cast of elegant characters are generally floating around in gowns with giant leg-o-mutton sleeves and feathered bonnets (the ladies) or silk cravats and high hats (the gents). Wilde is sending up society and puncturing its pomposity, which means you must see what that society looked like in 1895.
The most memorable character in the play and the clearest example of snobbery among the finer classes is Lady Bracknell, the formidable dragon who sniffs at her daughter marrying a man whose pedigree cannot be ascertained. After all, Jack Worthing was abandoned as a baby, left in a handbag at the railway station. A handbag! She also has all the best lines in Wilde's deliciously witty play, like this one: "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."
Because it's such a wonderful role, men have strapped themselves into Lady Bracknell's corset quite a lot, with acclaimed performances from the likes of Brian Bedford, Geoffrey Rush and David Suchet. Still, my favorite Lady Bracknell is Dame Edith Evans in the 1952 movie version of the play. Apparently director LaCasse is also a fan of the female Lady Bracknell, since he's cast local favorite Kathleen Kirk to play Lady B for Heartland.
The four lovers in the play -- Algernon, Jack, Cecily and Gwendolyn -- will be played by Kyle Redmon, Timothy Olsen, Emilia Dvorak and Jessie Swiech. Joining them will be Julie Riffle as Miss Prism, Cecily's governess, and Dean Brown as Dr. Chasuble, a local rector, with Chuck Pettigrew and Larry Eggan as Merriman and Lane, the perfectly composed manservant and butler who bring in the tea (and possibly cucumber sandwiches) at inopportune moments.
Wilde called The Importance of Being Earnest "a trivial comedy for serious people," but it's actually not at all serious as long as it skates along with the proper fin de siècle feel.
You'll find The Importance of Being Earnest on stage at Heartland Theatre beginning with a Pay What You Can preview on September 7, followed by Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances through the 23rd. For the complete list of performance dates and times, click here. For reservation information, see this page.