BRLT takes on Wilde’s comic masterpiece
What makes Algernon Montcrieff so funny is his blatant snobbishness.
It’s how Oscar Wilde wrote the character, how he intended Algernon to be played.
“That’s so important,” Phil Blanchard said. “In other comedies, you can kind of feel it out as you go along. But it’s about the writing with Oscar Wilde, and the way he wrote it. You have to get it exactly as he wrote it, because his use of the English language is so eloquent.”
Comedy is found within that eloquence, which amplifies Algernon’s arrogance.
“And it makes him so funny,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard should know. He’s become quite familiar with Algernon while playing the character in rehearsals leading up to the Friday, Sept. 28, opening night of Baton Rouge Little Theater’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
The play is considered Wilde’s best, his masterpiece.
The Importance of Being Earnest premiered on Feb. 14, 1895, in London’s St. James Theatre and continued to be a popular piece worldwide through the 20th century and now in the 21st century.
“The Importance of Being Earnest is probably the most famous of all comedies,” said Kurt Hauschild. “It revolves wittily around the most ingenious case of manufactured mistaken identity ever put into a play.”
The play marks Hauschild’s mainstage directorial debut at Baton Rouge Little Theater. He directed the theater’s Second Stage production of Steve Martin’s The Underpants last season.
“I had a discussion about the play with the cast at our first reading,” Hauschild said. “But I really didn’t start thinking about bringing it together until I knew what the stage would be like. Now that we have the sets, we can bring the story into it.”
The play takes place in three acts, the first in Algernon’s London flat, the second at Jack Worthing’s country house and the third in Lady Bracknell’s drawing room.
And Lady Bracknell not only is a key character in this story but in theater as a whole. She isn’t exactly a bad guy, but she is powerful. She definitely is the quintessential matriarch.
Put it this way: Judi Dench has played her in the most recent film version of the story.
Jennifer Johnson plays her in Baton Rouge Little Theater’s production.
“This is a bucket list character for me,” Johnson said. “She has some of the most beautifully crafted lines in the play. She is self confident, unbelievably arrogant, but she is by no means stupid.”
Lady Bracknell also is mother to Gwendolen, Jack Worthing’s love interest. And the manufactured identity of a man named Ernest begins with Jack. The story starts with the wealthy Algernon who awaits the impending arrival of his aunt, the Lady Bracknell. Yes, Algernon is her nephew, and Gwendolen is his cousin. And Jack is Algernon’s friend, but Algernon knows Jack by the name of Ernest. And Jack — Ernest — reveals that he plans on proposing marriage to Gwendolen. But Algernon says he will not consent to the marriage until Jack explains why he has a cigarette case bearing the inscription, “From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.”
If Jack’s name is Ernest, as Algernon is led to believe, why is the cigarette case inscribed to someone named Jack? And who is Ernest?
And so begin the twists and turns that, at one point in the story, even has Algernon claiming that his name is Ernest.
“The cast has been having a lot of fun with it,” Hauschild said.
And cast members wore their costumes for the first time on this particular rehearsal day, which made Algernon and Lady Bracknell appear haughtier.
This made everything more fun.
Because Wilde was the master of making snobbishness comical.
- CAST: Travis Williams, John (Ernest) Worthing; Phil Blanchard, Algernon Moncrieff; Courtney Murphy, Gwendolen Fairfax; Emily Wright, Cecily Cardew; Jennifer Johnson, Lady Bracknell; Nancy Litton, Miss Prism; John Sallinger, Rev. CAnon Chausuble, D.D.; Tyler Grezaffi, Lane Merriman.
- DIRECTOR: Kurt Hauschild.