Whimsical, witty and absurd — this is how the cast of “The Importance of Being Earnest” describes their fall production.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is Hinman Production Company’s (HPC) take on Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy. Filled with deception, family tensions and muddled identity swapping, the play offered stellar acting and clever comedy from Nov. 3 to Nov. 5.
The comedy tells the story of Jack Worthing, an English gentleman who assumes two separate identities — Jack in the country and Ernest in the city. Jack uses his double identity to escape from his life in the country, galavanting around London as his “younger brother” named Ernest. Meanwhile, Jack’s best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, uses another excuse for personal freedom — he has invented a chronically ill friend named Bunbury, whom he visits to escape his tiresome social life.
When Jack-as-Ernest proposes to Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen, she falls for him. Jack must then face the consequences of his deceit. Gwendolen refuses to love him by any other name, certainly not Jack — “there is very little music in the name” — and will only accept Ernest because “there is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.”
Meanwhile, Algernon falls for Jack’s ward, Cecily Cardew, while pretending to be Ernest. The two men’s simultaneous deception quickly evolves into a tangled mess of swapped identities and convoluted love.
Julianna Holmes, director of the play and an undeclared freshman, described the play as an opportunity for audiences to de-stress from the pressures of college.
“‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is at its heart a comedy, and I feel like in college, a lot of times we’re beaten into a little box of anxiety and workloads and deadlines, and just trying to get through the day,” Holmes said. “This is a place where you can come [and] you can watch a great show full of talented actors who just want you to have fun in the audience.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest” delivered on that wish. The Hinman Commons was staged as an English sitting room, including an ornate couch and dresser that brought the audience into the time period. Elaborate costumes drove home the historical immersion, while the actors’ performances crackled with chemistry. Their banter, bickering and everything in between felt electric and organic.
Holmes spoke about the rewarding challenge of directing a play as a first-year student.
“I come from a children’s theatre background, so it’s much different with kids that fully know the art of acting, and know how to interact with other people on stage and off stage in a completely different way than kids,” Holmes said. “It was a really fun experience. It was a learning curve definitely, but I feel like at the end I was able to learn a lot about this craft and about the actors that were kind of giving their talents to me.”
Zach Carpenter, a cast member portraying Jack Worthing and a first-year graduate student studying mechanical engineering, discussed his experience rehearsing with the rest of the cast.
“It’s been a blast,” Carpenter said. “I think this is a really fun comedy, and I think we’re all kind of pushing our limits by trying out the accent. And you know, it’s been a process to really find our characters. So we laugh a lot on set. There’s a lot of times where somebody will try something new comedically and it’ll make us totally break, because it’ll come out of the blue and it’ll be hilarious.”
Katherine Quinn, a cast member portraying Lady Bracknell and a senior double-majoring in English and cinema, described what initially drew her to the play.
“I actually studied abroad in London over the summer, and that’s when I found out that they were doing the ‘Importance of Being Earnest,’” Quinn said. “I was sort of picking up the British accent, and I thought it would be really fun to audition when I got back to school because I could show off my accent.”
Carpenter went on to speak about his previous familiarity with the play, and its relevance today.
“I actually knew nothing about the play before I auditioned except for the fact that it was written by Oscar Wilde,” Carpenter said. “I have read his other works and I’ve loved all of them, so I was like, ‘I’m sure it’ll be great.’ And it is. It’s really funny, and I think the humor — even though it was written in 1895 — it still holds up today, and kind of shows [Wilde’s] genius.”
The “Importance of Being Earnest” lived up to that genius. Confident performances, cozy period costuming and downright hilarious humor made HPC’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” a show to remember.