BW theatre department brings Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

The BW theater department will transport audiences to 1895 with their April production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”


Austin Patte

Ava Mastrone, Elliot Block, Casey Casimir, and Maddi O’Connell rehearse a scene for “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

The BW theatre department is bringing the wonders and wit of Oscar Wilde to Kleist’s Mainstage Theatre with its production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” on April 19-23.   

The satirical comedy tells the story of two bachelors, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who assume the made-up identities of men called “Ernest” to escape their boring lives and win over two women obsessed with marrying for status.   

“Our director always says that this whole play, the whole two-and-a-half hours, is this huge setup for just one punch line at the end, and that’s hilarious,” said Maddi O’Connell, a senior BFA acting major who portrays Lady Bracknell in the play.   

O’Connell said that the theater department is taking a very language-centric approach to tackling the famous play, as the bulk of the humor and fun is rooted in the text.   

“It’s like Shakespeare but frillier,” O’Connell said. “It’s very flowery.”  

The actors in the play will also use a British dialect when performing, said Ava Mastrone, a junior acting and directing major who portrays Gwendolen Fairfax in the play. The received pronunciation presented a unique obstacle, Mastrone said, but a welcome one.    

Mastrone said the physicality of the play was one of its biggest challenges due to the restrictive period clothing used in the play.  

“It’s been a challenge making sure I’m not standing or moving around like a person that’s in the 21st century, and making sure I’m holding myself and walking like they would’ve back in that time,” Mastrone said. “And then still finding ways to use my body to show the physical comedy and finding that balance of everything.”  

To prepare, the cast has been practicing in their period-appropriate costumes, which for Mastrone includes a corset, lavish dress, fancy hat, and parasol.  

“We’ve talked a lot about the idea of cake and sweetness and just fluffy happiness, and that really comes through in just the set design and the costume design,” Mastrone said.  

According to René Copeland, the assistant professor of directing and the play’s director, the costume and set design is where the department sought to incorporate a modern touch to the 1895 aesthetic.   

“In very subtle ways… they’re incorporating some kind of modern colors to the set. It shouldn’t feel overwhelming, but it just kind of gives that extra little modern sheen to a standard 19th-century play,” Copeland said. “We wanted to make sure we kept true to the period, but we were really interested in making it feel accessible and something that a modern audience would really enjoy.”  

In addition to the costume design, the luxurious nature of the play is reflected in the extravagance of the set. The set will be adorned with velvet furniture, feathered trees and flowers, Mastrone said, accompanied by trees cut in the shape of layered cake.   

Mastrone said that the play boasts three opulent sets, one for each act. Act 1 will feature one of the character’s apartments, while Act 2 takes place outdoors in the flowery country garden. The last act, Act 3, takes place inside the vibrant and grand country house.  

“It’s going to look beautiful,” Copeland said. “The set’s going to be beautiful, the costumes are going to be beautiful, and the language is just gorgeous, and you will laugh and have a good time.”  

For O’Connell, “The Importance of Being Earnest” will be her last play with the theater department at BW. Playing Lady Bracknell has given her confidence in her ability to bring a character to life without much assistance.   

“It feels good to know that I have all the tools to be able to go out into the world and create characters from nothing. It’s been really empowering,” O’Connel said.  

Audiences can look forward to “leaving their troubles behind,” and watching a show that will genuinely make them laugh, no matter what’s going on in their lives at that moment Mastrone said.  

“It opened in 1895, and it’s still done all the time,” Copeland said. “…[Wilde] managed to use humor in such a way that human beings of any decade get it. That humor is the thing that keeps it alive.”  

“The Importance of Being Earnest” will open in Kleist’s Mainstage Theater on April 19 and run through April 23.