The Kean University Department of Theatre will open its 2014-2015 season with Oscar Wilde’s beloved comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, October 17 – 25 in Kean’s Zella Fry Theatre. In late Victorian England, Jack and Algernon, two young men-about-town, escape from tedious social obligations by pretending to be someone that they are not: “Ernest.” Double lives and double standards lead to manic confusion when the loves of their lives, Gwendolyn and Cecily, both fall in love with the man they think is Ernest. In a tangle of mistaken identity and sparkling wordplay, the lovers also face the formidable obstacle of Lady Bracknell, a woman who would beat Cupid into submission if social status and public opinion were in jeopardy.
The production, directed by Department of Theatre faculty member E. Teresa Choate, will offer student actors an excellent opportunity to embrace a dialect, carriage, and even sensibility perhaps far removed from their own, according to Ms. Choate. “Actors must be chameleons, able to morph their bodies, voices, minds, and hearts into the reality of other places and periods,” stated Ms. Choate. “Technically, the cast will have to learn how to speak with an impeccable English accent. Also, at the turn of the last century, folks didn’t just galumph and slouch their way through the day. Everything was done in a high style with a focus on being beautiful and being witty.”
“Today it seems to be all about the clothes, hairstyle, and a ‘don’t-you-want-me’ body,” Ms. Choate continued. “While that was important then as well, the Victorians – especially those in Oscar Wilde’s circle – strove for the complete package: a body carried in an elegant and beautiful style, and a lovely voice employed to reveal a clever and, hopefully, brilliant mind.”
While Ms. Choate acknowledged it was always challenging to stage a period play for a modern audience, she said and the cast relished the opportunity to “discover ways to help our contemporary audience enjoy the play as much as Wilde’s audience did when it premiered on Valentine’s Day in 1894.”
“Today a lot of humor tends to be quite obvious and graphic, of the brain-not-required type,” said Ms. Choate. “Now I like wine shooting out of someone’s nose as much as anyone, but I also long for humor that is more humane, humor that makes us love the characters.”
The Importance of Being Earnest runs October 17 – 25 in Kean’s Zella Fry Theatre, located in Vaughn Eames Hall. Performances are scheduled for Friday, October 17 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, October 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, October 19 at 2 p.m.; Wednesday, October 22 at 8 p.m.; Thursday, October 23 at 5:00 p.m. (followed by a brief Q & A with the cast); Friday, October 24 at 10 a.m. (student matinee) & 8 p.m.; and Saturday, October 25 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Standard tickets are $15, with $12 tickets available for Kean faculty, staff, and alumni, and $10 tickets available for students. To purchase tickets or request a Department of Theatre season brochure, please call the Kean Stage box office at 908-737-SHOW (7469), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.keanstage.com/.