How to perfect snobbery: The Importance of Being Earnest
By Marilyn Bistline
“In the opening credits of the movie ‘Wilde,’ the title ‘Leadville, Colorado,’ pops up,” explained Professor of Theatre Eric Prince. “Wilde toured all over America, he was massively famous.”
Prince is describing the film “Wilde,” a biopic about Oscar Wilde, one of the greatest playwrights of the Victorian Era. Aside from his work and infamous personal life, he is remembered for his touring lecture series in North America. One of his first stops? That’s right, Leadville, Colorado, home to thousands of gold miners in the 1800’s. In the film the opening credits span over the mountainous landscape of Colorado’s highest city, with miners gathering around Wilde, eager to learn about the English gentleman.
Aside from the Oscar Wilde trivia, there are many lessons to be learned about Victorian society from CSU Theatre's production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the University Center for the Arts in April.
“Besides the beautiful costumes and lovely set, the story is woven together beautifully in its structure. I didn’t realize it was this good, I’ve forgotten how brilliant the dialogue is,” said Prince. “It’s like a verbal opera, the language is the music.”
The story of two men who decide to lead double lives in order to win over the women they love is complicated, but so comical that the plot becomes engrossing.
After dark productions like The Kafka Project and the drama of A Few Good Men, the students involved in the production are looking forward to the switch to comedy. The classic play has also provided a chance for the Earnest cast to focus on movement and diction.
“In this theater program we are really focused on speech and sometimes we lose out on the movement,” said sophomore Tim Garrity, who plays Lady Bracknell in the April production. “The movement we have learned really internalizes the Victorian snobbery.”
The students were visited by Tamara Meneghini, a theater professor at the University of Colorado and an expert in Victorian period styles and movement.
Brenna Otts, a freshman theater major and Cecily in the production, learned how to control her appearance as a society woman did in Victorian England.
“For women, you always stand and hold yourself like someone’s watching you,” said Brenna. “Tamara taught us the customs of the time, and she explained how scandalous it was when a couple would simply hold hands in the Victorian era.”
As for what the actors plan to bring to their respective roles, senior business major Kiernan Angley wants to show the childish side of Jack, the English gentleman who masquerades as Earnest in London when he wants to get away from his life in the country.
“Jack is usually very stiff, but there are moments when he’s childish, when he is trying to escape his life, and I am bringing that silliness to him,” said Kiernan.
Garrity, in the role of the arrogant Lady Bracknell, will play into her high society role while perfecting his inner Victorian.
“In that era, their personal space was like a cylinder around them; they didn’t take any big steps or flail about, and we learned that we need to look at everyone like they have a secret,” said Garrity. “In the end, I want Lady Bracknell to be the most pompous snob.”
After diving into rehearsals one week after the UCA hosted the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, the students have had the chance to compare the theater program at CSU to other programs in the West and Northwest.
“It was interesting to see these schools that were a little more theatrical, whereas we are more natural,” said Angley. “There is stuff that we do here at CSU that they couldn’t even fathom, and it made me really proud to be coming out of this department.”
Garrity thanks the alumni and theatre patrons who made it possible for CSU to host KCACTF.
“KCACTF was a gathering for theatre students to make contacts and learn about theatre,” says Garrity.”Without that extra ‘umph’ and support, we wouldn’t have been able to make the showing that we did. Isaac Newton said that you have to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants,’ and the alumni and supporters are the shoulders of our program.”
Prince acknowledged that the growth of the program has enabled the production of Earnest.
"The Importance of Being Earnest is a real treat. I think we overlook these great period plays because we concentrate on the modern pieces," said Prince. "They are different plays to produce, but the program has grown, and we have the talent to do it."
The Importance of Being Earnest runs April 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 22 in the University Theatre at the UCA. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., all nights. Opening night will be followed by a Meet the Artist Reception.