Summer/Fall 2011

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens before the play
  • Miss Laetitia Prism, a governess and blossoming novelist, makes an error in a cloakroom at London’s Victoria Station.
Stuff that happens during the play
  • At his flat in London, Algernon Moncrieff prepares for the arrival of his aunt, Lady Augusta Bracknell, and her daughter, Gwendolen Fairfax.
  • Algernon’s friend Mr. Worthing arrives unexpectedly. Mr. Worthing is in love with Gwendolen.
  • Algernon is quite surprised to discover that his friend’s name is not actually Ernest, but Jack.
  • Algernon tells Jack about “Bunburying,” a ruse he invented for escaping tedious social functions in London.
  • Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrive. Jack (as Ernest) proposes to Gwendolen.
  • Lady Bracknell interviews Jack to ascertain his eligibility as a suitor to her daughter. Lady Bracknell is alarmed about Jack’s unknown parentage.
  • In the garden of Jack’s country house, his young ward, Cecily Cardew, and her governess, Miss Prism, discuss the need to reform Jack’s wayward brother Ernest.
  • Algernon and Jack meet in the garden, under surprising circumstances.
  • Gwendolen and Cecily meet in the garden, under equally surprising circumstances.
  • In the morning room of Jack’s country house, revelations, confessions, engagements, and earnest trivialities ensue.
Notes from the Director
Something Sensational to read in the train

I wanted to put hard copy of the script in the actors’ hands as soon as possible, so I gave them the best cheap edition I could find. I thought: there’s only one version of the play; because the language is easy to understand, they don’t need an expensive edition with a ton of notes; and this one’s go decent binding, good paper quality, and plenty of space on the pages to write stuff. It also had the ugliest cover art I could find. Perfect.

What I didn’t know then is that this play has just as many versions and textual variants to consider as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear: 

15-year Calendar of Text and Performance History
1894 Aug: Wilde’s manuscript of a 4-act play
1894 Nov: 3 typesripts representing revisions between Aug and Nov
1895 Jan: a 3-act text submitted for licensing
1895 Jan: editor George Alexander’s typescript with more revisions, stage directions
1895 12 Feb: 1st dress after one month of rehearsals; Wilde made more changes
1895 14 Feb: 1st performance; closed after 83 performances
1895 22 April: 1st US performance; closed after a week
1899 Feb: 1st published edition based on Alexander’s copy newly marked up by Wilde
1902 7 Jan: first London revival with more textual changes; closed after 52 performances
1903 23 Feb: Samuel French’s acting edition that might have been a prompt book from the 1902 revival
1909 30 Nov: another revival toured for 11 months, which might be the source of another revision
the list goes on 

When you pick up an edition of Earnest, you will most likely be looking ath the 1899 edition. That’s what I gave our actors. After seeing how much of that text was the result of arbitrary additions, subtractions, omissions (some by editors and editor-wannabes, some by Wilde himself) before 1899, and after seeing all the other things Wilde and others added, subtracted, and omitted following 1899 for performance and for publication, I decided to do what I do with most of the Shakespeare texts I produce: I chose the stuff I liked best.

Wilde added some great jokes to his earlier versions; I’ve kept a bunch of those. Wilde later trimmed some details; I retained a bunch of those cuts. Sometimes he expanded on his earlier work; sometimes he reduced and distilled. Sometimes he cut some wonderful bits and I added them back. Sometimes the editors and stage managers gave us some new gold, and other times what they did wasn’t my favorite stuff. I’ve sifted through the different versions in an attempt to give us my favorite mixed-tape version…as of right now.

Just as our Hamlet will be a collage of material and sequencing from the First Quarto, Second Quarto, the First Folio, and the occasional “correction” from a later Folio and/or quarto, our Earnest script is a unique blend of the available texts that will be unlike any other production ever performed.

Double the fun with lady bracknell

James Keegan will play Lady Bracknell during the Summer Season and John Harrell will play her in the Fall Season. Why? …because of the gender-bending we do all the time at the ASC, because this delicious character has a tasty history of being played by a man, but most of all, because I think both James and John will rock the world in this part, and I think you should see our production twice.

Jim Warren

ASC Artistic Director, Co-founder