This classic comedy of manners, the quintessential
witty farce from the Victorian period, was produced during my eighth
summer at the Huron Playhouse, Ohio's longest-running summer theatre.
The story of the play is
familiar to most regular theatre goers. The
profligate Algernon has learned that his friend Earnest, whom he had
assumed to be most upright and boring, is leading an apparent double
life - in the city he goes by Earnest, but in the country he goes by
Jack, and moreover has a young ward, Cecily. Ever adventuresome, Algy,
who is known for concocting an invalid friend Bunbury to cover for his
visits to the country, discovers the location of Jack's country estate
and shows up, announcing himself to Cecily as Jack's brother Earnest.
When Jack's sweetheart Gwendolen arrives, the mistaken identity of who
Earnest is the engine for the comedy, whose improbable plot is resolved
by various revelations and happy accidents - including an heir apparent
who years earlier had been absent-mindedly placed in a handbag by
Cecily's governess Miss Prism and left behind by her at a train
station, to be found an orphan and raised as .... [you get the
Described by Wilde as "A Trivial Comedy for
Serious People," the text is sometimes approached by many modern theatre
practitioners with a "deadpan" style. However, we discovered in our process that
the apparent seriousness of delivery should be matched with energy and
verve of a farce for an "energetically committed gravity" rather than
the softer touch and lower energy implied by the term"deadpan."
The pre-production process was unusual, in that the set had already
been designed and built for a production elsewhere, which presented
some staging challenges. The fragmented unit-wagon design and
faux-parquet-tile floor helped immensely, as pieces could easily be
adjusted, yet retain a unified illusion of space.
As is usual with the Huron Playhouse, actors,
tech staff (and some designers) were drawn from regional auditions,
with performers drawn from all over the USA. The character work of the
actors in this production was quite excellent, especially those who had
to portray the balance of "serious farce" in aged persons.