Only one other writer could compete with Shakespeare for the title of the most quoted playwright, and that is Oscar Wilde. Seattle Shakespeare Company produces their first production of a Wilde play with The Importance of Being Earnest directed by Victor Pappas this spring.
The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s last play and has been hailed as one of the cleverest comedies in the English language. Dapper Jack Worthing and Algernon, his compatriot in cavorting, have fallen for two ladies who have their hearts set on marrying a man named Ernest. In order to pursue the romance, both men concoct an elaborate deception which leads to an even more outlandish surprise when the formidable Lady Bracknell starts sleuthing about for the far-fetched truth.
Wilde was a great admirer of the social commentary plays of Shaw and Ibsen. At the first rehearsal for the play, director Victor Pappas remarked that The Importance of Being Earnest was written after Wilde’s series of “Society Plays” where the characters all had great secrets they were trying to protect. The play was a departure from his previous works in that Wilde set aside the earnest social commentary and focused on his humor and triviality he saw in his society. “He calls the play a trivial play for serious people. It is indeed that,” said Pappas. “It says: `Look at the things we take seriously and look at the things we treat as trivial….I’m going to invert that, and that’s going to be a reflection of our society.’” The Importance of Being Earnest was written during the period of Wilde’s life when he had his own secrets. A happily married man with children, Wilde also conducted a whole other life with Lord Alfred Douglas. The Importance of Being Earnest opened on Valentine’s Day in 1895 and shortly thereafter the great scandal of Wilde’s life became public. He was imprisoned, his named removed from the play, and Wilde never came back as a literary force within his lifetime.
Pappas makes his Seattle Shakespeare Company directing debut with The Importance of Being Earnest. He served as the Associate Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre for seven years and recently directed Other Desert Cities, Old Times and Mary Stuart at ACT Theatre. He spent a decade as Associate Chair of the Graduate Acting Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he received the David Payne Carter Award for Teaching Excellence.
Husband and wife actors Connor Toms and Hana Lass will play Jack and Cecily. Both have appeared frequently at Seattle Shakespeare Company, Toms most recently as Duke Orsino in the Wooden O production of Twelfth Night (2012) and Lass as Rosalind in As You Like It (2012). Emily Grogan, who also appeared in the Wooden O production of Twelfth Nightas Olivia returns to play Gwedonlen. Making their Seattle Shakespeare Company debuts are Quinn Franzen as Algernon and Kimberly King as Lady Bracknell. Also appearing in the production are Kate Wisniewski as Miss Prism, Charles Leggett as Rev. Chausible, and Michael Patten in the dual roles of Lane and Merriman.