Notes from the Director
Hard Work Doing Nothing
I’m thrilled to be working for the ASC, a company I’ve long admired from afar. Classical theatre gives us the opportunity to see that people have been people all this time. ASC’s approach to Shakespeare makes his work as exciting for a popular audience today as it was in his day, and I’m eager to apply that approach to Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, Earnest.
Comedy is rarely given the artistic merit ascribed to drama or tragedy. This annoyed Oscar Wilde, who insisted that his plays were undervalued, despite their popularity. He was compared to Scribe and Sardon, when he wanted to be considered the English Ibsen. Like Ibsen, Wilde was challenging social norms and ideals in quite subversive ways, but whereas Ibsen’s productions caused riots, Wilde’s caused riotous laughter. Unlike Ibsen (but like Shakespeare), Wilde chose to use popular forms of theatre (like farce) as his vehicle. In doing so, he discovered freedom within England’s censorship laws to plant seeds of social critique that went largely unnoticed then, but have grown to stand the test of time.
Time’s gift of perspective allows us now to place Earnest in a larger historical context, and we can see in it an early example of the existential plays championed by the likes of Ionesco, Pirandello, and Beckett after atrocities of the second World War, asking similar questions: What is underneath all the distractions we give ourselves? What is behind the masks we wear? Who are we?
Algernon: What shall we do?
Algernon: It’s awfully hard work doing nothing.
The confrontation of nothingness is indeed hard work, and so, like Oscar’s characters, we busy ourselves with fashions and infatuations and making silly things important. It’s easy to distract ourselves with diversions to the point of never taking time to ask the tougher questions: What am I doing here? Am I grateful? What gift do I want to give the world?
What I love about Earnest is that while it touches on darker themes than you might initially notice, its characters don’t wallow in despair or rage against the machine. His incredible humor lifts us up, and lets us laugh at ourselves. I think that’s just as important as noticing the deeper questions beneath the shiny surface.