Dangerous Dreams | April 7 – June 11, 2016

Oscar Wilde’s brilliant and wicked comic-masterpiece defines wit and style. This “trivial comedy for serious people” is at once blissfully silly and outrageously shrewd. 120 years after its first performance, The Importance of Being Earnest continues to delight audiences with its playful language, charming character,s and biting look at contemporary society.

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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
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?
Jack: Nothing.
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.

Kevin Rich

Guest Director