19th Century Themes Remain Earnest and Important
In Cassie Greer’s Pacific directorial debut, the cast and crew struck gold in performing The Importance of Being Earnest, a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed in 1895, the show is historically known for its witty humor and outrageous characters. The theatre department describes the show as a “gender-bent madcap farce full of deception byzantine plots and mistaken identities.”
Gereer, who is veteran director at Hillsboro’s Bag and Baggage Productions, has enjoyed her time directing the play. “It has been a really exciting process and experience,” said Greer. “All the students, department, and faculty have been wonderful to work with.” Greer explains the nuance of the show expresses just how ridiculous humans are.
“This show was first performed in 1895 in London,” she said. The old-English language of the show is a big part of how it is viewed. “Oscar Wilde is a very interesting and unique character that I could spend hours and hours talking about. Really, he is known in the 2023 world for his wit. He has these beautiful quips that are so wonderfully phrased. There is satire, there is irony.”
Greer went on to talk about how Wilde wrote this play as a nod to the “aesthetic movement.” The canonical work was first performed in 1895 in London, a time when the movement was at its peak. Wilde originally wanted the play to represent art existing for art’s sake. While he was not afraid to poke fun at just how ridiculous humans are, this show reflects his personal sense of humor. Wilde did not fit into any boxes, and his art was a reflection of his life. He often wrote himself into shows, disguising his characteristics into certain characters.
Wilde, known best as a novelist and playwright, is also known for being jailed for homosexual acts. Living as a gay man in the 19th century, Wilde often used his art as a sense of escapism. In Pacific’s performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, there is this gender-bent theme that attempts to subvert the restrictive conditions under which the play was written while paying homage to Wilde’s intention to poke fun at gender. Ignoring the set pronouns of the show, the actors and crew give nod to how society has changed since Wilde’s time. By creating a more diverse and less cookie-cutter show, it does not feel like one is watching a play from the 1800s. There is a more welcoming energy, one that is more entertaining to watch. Taking that modern twist on an old-time show places the production in 2023.
The Importance of Being Earnest reflects a man living a double life. The show follows one main character, Jack, played by Izzy Williams (the Index’s Arts & Culture Editor), who starts the show at the beginning of an identity crisis. In order to live a life of pleasure in London separate from his responsible life in the country, Jack is known to some as “Earnest” and by others as “Jack.” The existence of the alter-ego “Earnest” gives Jack a way to live out his true self, to which the audience can assume to be the more wild side of him.
Despite being set in England in the 1800s, the transitions feature upbeat, modern music to allow the audience to relate to the melody. Once Greer asks the actors to get into their place, we are no longer in Oregon, and the cast takes on British accents. In what can be a difficult task, the actors do well in modernizing a classic show.
Through three acts and three set changes, the play follows Jack, and his friend Algernon, played by Abby Weinman. Both characters take on new identities in the romance-filled story about performativity among the rich. The romantic counterpart to Jack, It-Girl Gwendolyn, is played by Oliver Oetker. Algernon’s love interest, Cecily, is played by Madison Stevens. Lady Bracknell, the snobby aunt of Algernon, is played by Joey Barret.
A close-knit group is required in order to perform a good show—and this cast prove they want the best for each other, joking around and sharing a few laughs before their rehearsal that was a week out before their performance weekend. With only nine actors listed, everyone gets ample time on stage. The flow of the show feels relatively fast, with each act of the show taking place in different set locations.
March 16-19 with a 7:30 pm start time and a 2 pm ASL-interpreted matinee on March 19 in Tom Miles theater. Tickets are available at pacificu.edu/theatretickets. — Avari Schumacher