Revivals of Oscar Wilde’s famous comedy The Importance of Being Earnest aren’t uncommon. But, while most fall flat as frivolous crowd-pleasers, Victoria College Drama Society’s production proves to be an exception. With a story so trivial, it’s easy to ignore the true message behind the play; however, director Rachel Bannerman does a fine job and makes ‘order of all the absurdity.’ In this modern retelling, two straight characters are turned queer in an attempt to show that love is something worth fighting for. This is perhaps apt, considering the LGBT community’s prevalence in today’s society as well as Wilde’s own life.
This Victorian satire follows Algernon Moncrieff (Gianni Sallese) and Jacqueline “Jack” Worthing (Sylvia Woolner), two members of Victorian upper aristocracy as they lead double lives to feed their unconventional habits and flee from societal obligations. In a world where utmost importance is given to fashionable food and the ‘right setting,’ the two protagonists maneuver obstacles in their pursuit of true love.
As the play goes about addressing the various quirks of Victorian culture, such as overreliance on etiquette, social standing, and scrutinized romance, it also focuses on the limitations posed on queer individuals. In the director’s note, Bannerman writes, “We are living in a world that is so fervently trying to write queer bodies, especially trans and nonbinary bodies, out of existence, and there is something hopeful and damningly lovely about characters speaking themselves and their love into existence.” She uses the plot of the play to show how the way one loves has sadly become the way by which they are condemned, but ultimately how love can be a symbol of resilience and strength.
The double lives, lived by Algernon and Jack, and the confusion that follows is responsible for much of the hilarity that ensues in the play. So, switching Jack’s character for a female lead should have cut short the disarray necessary for the conflict in the plot. However, Bannerman’s tactful management of the script enables audiences to look past this detail and view Jaqueline and Gwendolen’s relationship as nothing less than a budding love between two queer bodies.
The play’s brilliance is brought to life by a wonderful and talented cast from VCDS. Although all the characters were beautifully played, two stood out from the rest. Gianni Sallese’s portrayal of Algernon captures the charm, wit, and dandy essence of the character and lets no comedic opportunity go by without milking it in its entirety. He is well supported by Kenley Ferris Ku’s Ceceily, who proves a perfect accompaniment to Algernon’s pantomime nature. Sexual chemistry flares between the two and Ferris makes good in differentiating between his character’s simplicity and naivety.
The background crew does a fine job as well, as it assembled a stage that resembles Victorian society accurately. It is well supported by musical accompaniment, from the opening piano sequence in Algernon’s apartment to the many enchanting songs set in the 1800’s. Also, the design of costumes and hats replicate those of said era. The play is spread about in three acts: they take place in Algernon’s London apartment, the Worthing countryside manor garden, and living room, respectively.
The Importance of Being Earnest leaves the audience with a courage to grab life by the tail—whether this was the intended purpose, its message of finding the humor and love in life shines through. It encourages us to dream of a brighter and ideal world that is right around the corner, one with more equality for the LGBT community, and to be brave like the characters as we try to achieve that reality. This interpretation of Wilde’s work makes it relevant to a modern audience over two centuries later.
The Importance of Being Earnest ran at the Isabel Bader Theatre from October 25-27.