|Danielle Peterson (Gwendolen), William Vaughan (Jack) and Liam MacDougall (Algernon) bring a 'swinging sixties' vibe to Oscar Wilde's outlandish comedy.
The sights and sounds of London in the “swinging sixties” set the stage for an imaginative retelling of Oscar Wilde’s beloved comedy classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, October 5-13 at the University of South Carolina’s Longstreet Theatre.
Show times are 8pm Wednesdays-Fridays, 7pm Saturdays and 3pm on the first Sunday. There is an additional half-price late night performance on Saturday, October 13 at 11pm. Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-5:30pm, beginning Friday, September 28.
The Importance of Being Earnest follows the exploits of Jack Worthing, a socialite leading two lives. He’s the well-respected “Jack” at his country estate, where he is guardian to his adoptive father’s granddaughter, Cecily; and, in the city, he assumes the identity of an imaginary brother, the loose and freewheeling Ernest. When his good friend Algernon discovers the deception, he decides to get in on the action, coming to Jack’s country estate as the fictional brother. This complicates not only Jack’s designs on Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen, but Algernon’s own desire for Jack’s young ward, Cecily. Filled with hilarious plot twists and Wilde’s singular acerbic wit, The Importance of Being Earnest is high farce at its finest!
Director Robert Richmond explains that the decision to set the play in the era of Twiggy and the mod fashions of Carnaby Street helps to not only make it more relatable to modern audiences, but also to highlight Wilde’s “outlandish” writing.
“I think that our sensibility to watch the smoking jacket version of Oscar Wilde, where it is all about the wit and the quip, doesn’t quite hold up to our attention spans any more,” he says. “I don’t think we necessarily think of this play as very outlandish these days – it's seen as more of a comedy of manners. But by deciding to move the date of the play to the 1960s, we’ve opened up all sorts of fun opportunities.”
Richmond worked with university Associate Professor Yvonne Ivory, a scholar of Oscar Wilde, to better fit the Victorian-era play into the mid-20th Century, and says that, aside from a few minor details, Wilde’s skewering of societal inequities still rings true for both the 1960s and today.
“I think that we’re true to Oscar Wilde’s intention of lampooning society and what really silly, rich people are able to do,” he explains. “We were discussing the other day that this play seems to fit our modern times because it does seem to make a comment on what only the 1% in our society are afforded to be able to have,” he says.
Wilde’s script also deals with how social rules dictate how we present our lives and the importance of seeing past the surface.
“In this particular production, we’ve cross-dressed the character of Lady Bracknell (played by Rocco Thompson), as well as the role of Doctor Chasuble (played by Andrea Wurzburger),” he explains. “This is all linked to the theme that what we see is a veneer, and what we see isn’t necessarily what’s underneath. That’s true to Oscar Wilde’s play and it’s true to the way we’ve conceived the set and all of the costume design that goes with it. Even the nice guy in this play has a dual personality. He coexists in the town and the country under two different names, and he’s the guy we root for.”
The production will feature an all-undergraduate cast, including William Vaughan as Jack Worthing, Liam MacDougall as his friend Algernon, Danielle Peterson as Gwendolen and Emily Gonzalez as Cecily. The cast is rounded out by actors Katie Atkinson, Katie Cole, John Floyd, Katie Foshee, Dillon Ingram, Emily Olyarchuk, Grace Ann Roberts, Rocco Thompson, Chandler Walpole and Andrea Wurzburger.
Scenic Designer Kimi Maeda, an MFA Design alum, is giving a psychedelic sixties twist to the play’s city and country settings. Inventive lighting design for the production is by Charlie Pogue, also an MFA Design alum. A swinging soundscape featuring acts like The Stones and The Beatles is being created by alum Daniel Bumgardner. Costume Designer Elizabeth Coffin, a current undergraduate in the theatre program, is bringing back to life the electric fashions of Carnaby Street.
For more information on The Importance of Being Earnest or the theatre program at the University of South Carolina, contact Kevin Bush by phone at (803) 777-9353 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.