Times certainly have changed since Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest first opened in London in 1895. The spoof of Victorian manners was a huge hit; but the gay playwright had gotten wind of a plot by his lover’s disapproving aristocratic father to pelt him with rotten vegetables when he took his bows, so he had to have the Marquess of Queensberry barred from the premiere. A barrage of lawsuits and countersuits ensued, ending with Wilde sentenced to two years of hard labor for “gross indecency.” His stint in prison ruined his health and effectively ended his career, hard on the heels of his biggest success. Five years later he was dead.
If only this most celebrated wit of the late 19th century could have lived long enough to see the legalization of same-sex marriage, he might be delighted with today’s relaxation of social morés; but he would probably still uphold the same skepticism about the institution of marriage and the conventions of courtship that he displayed so cleverly in The Importance of Being Earnest. Stuffed with quips and epigrams and subtitled A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, the play follows the misadventures of two upper-class young men from the city who both create alter egos named Ernest to facilitate their romantic conquests in the country. It features one of Wilde’s most memorable (and quotable characters), the “Gorgon” Lady Bracknell.
Performing Arts of Woodstock’s new production of The Importance of Being Earnest opens this Friday and runs for three (non-consecutive) weekends, under the direction of Robert McBroom. The cast includes Joe Bongiorno as Jack Worthing, Neil Howard as Algernon Moncrieff, Virginia Chapman as Lady Bracknell, Erika Young as Gwendolen Fairfax, Ella Cattabiani as Cecily Cardew, Susanne Traub as Miss Prism, George Allen as Reverend Chasuble and Joe Veillette as Merriman/Lane.
Performances at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, March 28 to 30, April 4 to 6 and 18 to 20. Ticket prices are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and students. For reservations call (845) 679-7900 or visit www.performingartsofwoodstock.org.
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Performing Arts of Woodstock, Friday-Sunday, March 28-30, April 4-6 & 18-20, 8 p.m., $20/$15, Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock; (845) 679-7900, www.performingartsofwoodstock.org.