The many faces of Earnest

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By Ann Mauzy

Los Alamos Little Theatre presents its final play this season, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde. On its surface, the play is about two young men and their courtship with their respective girlfriends in the time of Queen Victoria.

It was first performed in 1895 at the St. James’ Theatre in London and is part satire, part comedy of manners and part intellectual farce. Below the surface of the clever absurdities, puns, bons mots, and other epigrams, however, is an expos of the self-righteous moralism and hypocrisy at the heart of Victorian society.

As the play opens, a young man named Algernon, played by Corey New, trades quips with his manservant Lane, played by John Gustafson. The characters’ British accents, the stage set, props and costumes create the Victorian setting in an upper class London townhouse. The sophisticated dialoge tossed back and forth sets the tone of the “The Importance of Being Earnest,” often called, “the wittiest play in the English language.”

Algernon’s friend Jack, played by Patrick Kelly, enters, and the audience learns that both of the flippant young men have convenient escapes so that they can appear “correct” in Victorian society and still have their fun. Jack calls himself “Jack” in the country, where he is guardian to his niece, and “Earnest” when he is in town. His reasoning: being a guardian requires a high moral tone, but as he explains, “A high moral tone is not conducive to health or happiness.” Therefore, he pretends to have a younger brother, “Earnest,” who has all the fun and gets into trouble.

Algernon’s Aunt Augusta, played by Jody Shepard, and her daughter Gwendolyn, played by Elizabeth Price, join the young men. Under Aunt Augusta’s disapproving eye, Gwendolyn flirts with Jack/Earnest. She tells him she’s in love with the name “Earnest.” In moments he proposes, and she accepts. But since Jack/Earnest is an orphan, Aunt Augusta says he simply will not do as marriage material.

Act II takes place at Jack/Earnest’s country manor, where his niece Cecily, played by Rose Corrigan, resides under the watchful eye of her governess Miss Prism, played by Sally Cassil. Algernon shows up to woo Cecily. Cecily, too, has previously decided to love someone named “Earnest,” so Algernon must also become “Earnest.” As both men change their names to “Earnest,” a minister is needed to perform the Christening, and Rev. Chasuble, played by Andrew Green, serves the purpose. Todd Graves, playing Merriman the butler, and Frances McRoberts as the chambermaid round out the cast.

Richard Klamann directs this production. “From their order of appearance, so as not to show favorites: John Gustafson, Manservant Lane, has this clear tenor voice and sincere manner that wonderfully color the lies he’s forced to tell for his conniving boss, (Algernon),” Klamann said. “Corey, playing Algernon, is one of my pros. He manages to pull off a version of Algernon that is comic and slimy at the same time.”

He continued, “Pat Kelly, playing John (Jack) Worthing, has a long run of melodrama hero roles under his belt and injects a tremendous amount of energy and imagination, not only into his role, but into everyone around him. Jody Shepard plays Lady Bracknell; Shepard has more quality theatre experience than she will allow me to share.

“Elizabeth Price is new to us, but another pro. Elizabeth's Gwendolen is a complex amalgamation of girlishness and sophistication, vulnerability and control, which only an experienced actress could manage. Sally Cassil, playing Miss Prism, is another long-time veteran of Los Alamos stages, whose voice is full, nuanced, and musical.”

“Rose Corrigan filled the role that kept me sleepless right through casting day for fear of not finding a proper match,” Klamann said. “To quote Jack, ‘She (Cecily) is excessively pretty, and she is only just 18.’ Rose is not only that, she naturally projects a youthful optimism and sunny disposition that defines ‘ingnue.’ ”

Andrew Green not only physically and vocally fits Reverend Chasuble, he projects a calmness befitting a man of the cloth,” he said. “Todd Graves, on the other hand, has the unfortunate task of attempting to play me when I was in high school and performed the role of Merriman the butler. Sadly, Todd has managed to become geeky, awkward, clumsy, and cracky-voiced, completely belying his own powerful baritone and confident demeanor. Our last cast member, Frances MacRoberts, the chambermaid, is simply lovable; that’s her job.”

Los Alamos Little Theatre’s production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” play at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and May 9, 10, 16 and 17. There will be a show at 2 p.m. May 11. Tickets ($12 general admission and $10 for students and seniors) are available at CB Fox and at the door, 1670 Nectar St.