Whirlwind of Wordplay in ‘Importance of Being Earnest’
Concordia College Theatre production has linguistic fun
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 16:10
Second in a season of powerhouse shows at Concordia College Theatre is a play any fan of fun with the English language cannot fail to appreciate. “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the Oscar Wilde classic, is currently running at the college’s Lab Theatre, taking its audience on an English language adventure.
Though some people may shy away from a show with Victorian vernacular spiked with doublespeak and wordplay, no one need fear as a little time is all it takes to understand the dialogue.
“Like going to see a Shakespeare play, the first five minutes, you say ‘I don’t understand this and I don’t know what these people are saying,’” director Christian Boy said, “and then you tune your ears in and you realize how carefully you have to concentrate on it, and then the play starts to reveal itself.”
Playwright Oscar Wilde, who penned the play in 1894, is famous for his works’ focus on appearances and what lies on the surface. Substance is of little importance as long as the aesthetics are there, essentially.
“Oscar Wilde thought nothing mattered as long as you said it cleverly and looked good saying it,” Boy said. “Substance isn’t what Wilde’s life was about.”
While it can be campy, “The Importance of Being Earnest” can also be a double-edged sword; humorous moments, while present, are not as easily discernible to audience members not very well-versed in wordplay.
“That is one of the risks of doing an Oscar Wilde play, is some of the humor is lost on a contemporary, American audience because all of the humor lies in wordplay; cleverly turned and crafted phrases are what this play is about,” Boy said.
Behind the dialogue is a cast of nine, portraying two men with double identities, the women who want to marry them, and everyone else in between. Set design for this play took on an interesting element in employing the use of central staging, or in the round.
“We’re doing it in the round, and it’s rare to see a play fully staged in the round in Fargo-Moorhead, so the audience sits on all four sides,” Boy said. “All of the scenic elements are appropriate Victorian period furniture and props and beautiful Victorian costumes. So that’s the visual focus. Your fellow audience members are also part of the visual spectrum. Instead of looking at walls or flats, you’re looking at the actors in front of you but then you’re also seeing audience on the other side of them.”
Uniqueness in its set design as well as in its script, Concordia’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” carries the label of being Wilde’s most enduring play. Though not everyone in attendance will realize humor when it hits, Boy can share one piece of the show’s wordplay right away—its title.
“It’s a play on the word ‘earnest’ as a quality and Earnest as a man’s name. So there are women in the play who want to marry a man whose name is Earnest and there are men in the play who pretend their name is Earnest. And the play on words is the earnestness level, the sincerity that’s tied with being earnest and the insincerity of the men who are pretending to be Earnest.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is presented 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at Lab Theatre in the Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre at Concordia College. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for non-Concordia students and seniors and free for Concordia students with ID. Tickets are available at the box office and at (218) 299-3314.