The Importance of Being Earnest

Claire Wehri, General Reporter

The UND Theatre Department presented The Importance of Being Earnest, a play written by Oscar Wilde in 1894. The show was held during five separate dates this November, and I attended the presentation on Friday the 19th. Burtness Theatre was the stage for the performing artists and the first set was already prepared when I found my seat. I arrived knowing very little about the nature of the play, but the beautifully arranged scene showed an artistically furnished morning-room in the era of the 1800s. The upbeat tune of a piano was heard from what I imagined was the adjoining room of the “house”. Even before the play began, the audience could feel themselves becoming immersed in the world of the story.

When the lights in the auditorium dimmed out into darkness, everyone fell quiet in anticipation for the show to start. Then the light returned and there was Lane, a manservant of the luxurious place, arranging the afternoon tea for his master who was yet to be seen. The beginning act continued on to introduce the main characters of the story in a humorously humanistic manner. “Show, don’t tell” is the most integral aspect of the performing arts, and the actors did exactly that when exhibiting the personalities of their characters. Each character had an aura that filled the stage even when they weren’t the one in the spotlight.

Earnest Worthing presented himself as a respectable man of high social standing, but after some scrutiny from his witty and amoral friend Aljernon, he admits that this is just an alter-ego that he invented. “Earnest” is actually Jack from the countryside. He uses his persona to have a double-life in which he can participate in affairs of the higher class and flirt with Aljernon’s cousin, Gwendolyn. Aljernon himself then reveals that he, too, has been double-crossing his peers. However, instead of having an alter-ego he uses a sick imaginary friend who lives in the country. During his so-called visits to this friend named Bunbury, he gets to escape unpleasant social obligations. These revelations set the stage- quite literally- for the folly these two men get themselves into throughout the rest of the story.

Such absurdities that occur include more than one woman becoming engaged to the same fake persona Earnest, Jack discovering a familiar character is his long-lost mother, and Aljernon realizing the woman he has just proposed to has been in an engagement with him for months! Needless to say, this story was written to be quite the emotional rollercoaster. Some audience members got an especially big kick out of all the hilarity and loud laughter that occurred in the midst of the performance. Not only did everyone on stage carry the strong emotions flawlessly with believable expressions and exaggerated movements: They were even able to entertain their audience without a single hint that they could hear its noise. The invisible veil between the audience and the world of the play was never once torn by an actor responding to a person offstage.

Praise is also owed to the set and costume designers who brought London in the 1800s to North Dakota in 2021. The regal style of the story’s setting was clear in every detail from the meticulously arranged furniture to the beautiful yet simple design of Cecily’s dress. Seeing the hairstyles of the women was a particular enjoyment for me, especially since they accurately depicted social norms of that time. Older women of high society wore their hair up while younger girls were still allowed to let theirs hang down, and having long hair was an attractive and

feminine feature. The thought and care that went into the design of this play was clear and it went far in heightening the quality of the theatre experience.

As someone who rarely goes to see theatre performances, this experience has made me aware of how enjoyable it can be. Everyone who had a part to play in that comedic masterpiece deserves praise for their hard work and wonderful performance. I am looking forward to attending more of their shows in the future, and I recommend anyone who hasn’t to clear an evening for them. For a moment you can forget about the follies of your own life and enjoy those of the world onstage. The Theatre Department’s next performance will be The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, a musical comedy set around a fictional spelling bee. This show will begin near the end of February, so there is plenty of time to plan a night to see it. But if you find yourself with unpleasant social obligations getting in the way, here’s a tip: Say that your poor friend Bunbury is sick and you’re off for a visit. Just pray you won’t have to learn the importance of being earnest.

 

Claire Wehri is a Dakota Student writer. She can be reached at [email protected]