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Wickedly Wilde: 'Earnest' on stage
The Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde has long been admired for poking fun ever-so-slyly at the establishment, the upper-crust of Victorian society in his day, through the use of a razor-sharp wit, satire and dramatic dialogue overflowing with double meaning.
Probably not the qualities that one might normally associate with the typical teenager. So, be prepared to have your expectations upended when the Friday Harbor Middle Players present Wilde’s time-honored and signature stage production, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
This group of actors not only understands the nuances of Wilde’s language, but when it comes to the subtle or not-so-subtle humor, they “get it.”
That realization rang true for director Jane Maxwell Campbell after she lopped off a few lines here and there to reduce the production’s running time just a bit, and the cast then asked her to reconsider.
“The lines they wanted back in show me they’re getting the humor,” Maxwell Campbell said. “Maybe it’s a little bit above their head, you bet. But sometimes it’s a good thing to have to reach a little.”
A tall order perhaps, but the cast of nine brings a good deal of collective experience to the stage, with many having performed earlier in Missoula Children’s Theatre productions and in the San Juan Community Theatre’s Family Theatre performances as well. Confidence in portraying the sophistication of their characters grew as rehearsals progressed, Maxwell Campbell said. And, having middle schoolers delivering worldly-wise lines while dressed in elegant Victorian costumes only heightens the ironic effect that Wilde intended to draw out in the play.
Performed for the first time on Valentine’s Day in London, in 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest takes a satirical look at Victorian customs, the nature of marriage, the constraints of morality of the day, hypocrisy versus inventiveness and, in the end, the importance of sincerity, or, on the flip-side, of not being “earnest.”
It’s also a thought-provoking play that offers the director an opportunity to expose her cast to a great piece of literature, and to revel in the role of teacher as well as director.
“It’s a play about what it means to be real, to be who you are and to not pretend to be something else,” Maxwell Campbell said. “And, it’s about being accepting of others.”
Could there be a better subject for a middle schooler to tackle?
The SJCT box office: open Tuesdays–Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information or tickets, www.sjctheatre.org, or, 378-3210.