Tackling a play by one of the best-known writers of all time, director Cory Doran offered audiences his rendition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest last Friday to a nearly sold out first show at the Hart House.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a satirical play that follows the lives of John (Jack) Worthing (Michael Adam Hogan) and Algernon Moncrieff (Victor Pokinko), two aristocrats who try to escape their social burdens. Moncrieff and Worthing also try to win the affections of their lovers, Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax (Hannah Drew) and Cecily Cardew (Eliza Martin).
The audience is first introduced to Algernon and his hilarious drunk butler, Lane (Daniel Staseff). Immediately, Pokinko captivates the audience with his portrayal of a vain, self-centred aristocrat. Algernon has a very Reaver (from the Fable franchise) vibe and Pokinko was flawless in his role. Enter Algernon’s best friend John, who wants to propose to Gwendolen, Algernon’s cousin. Hogan was great at capturing Worthing’s character as the moralistic aristocrat with a slightly vain air.
Gwendolen doesn’t get much attention until the second act, but Drew succeeded in bringing life to her character. Worthing’s ward, Cecily, was the adorable airhead who falls prey to Algernon’s affections. Martin gave a nice performance as Cecily and reminded me of Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Daisy in The Great Gatsby, a character with little depth handled by a great actress. Another standout performance was Nicole Wilson as Lady Bracknell, Algernon’s aunt. Wilson was splendid and she brought some great humour to an evil character.
I could think of no one better to direct a play like this. A well-known voice actor, Cory Doran (Jimmy Two-Shoes, Total Drama) is down to earth, charming, and funny.
The Medium had the chance to speak with Doran and Hogan a week before the show to talk about the play and what they felt they could bring to it.
“I’ve been in love with Oscar Wilde’s work as long as I’ve been doing theatre, way back in high school,” Doran said. “I’ve loved this play for well over a decade and I wanted to get a crack at it. And especially not having to do rogue theatre, something where someone’s like ‘Okay, maybe we can rehearse in my mom’s basement this time.’ ”
Doran admitted that he wasn’t afraid to handle this play because it’s been done many times before. “I’m very confident in my vision of the final product, where I wanted to go, what story I wanted to tell,” he said. “Once I formulate my vision on it, I’m always very confident on where it’s going to be.”
The play was first been performed in the 1890s, and Doran did feel that he needed to bring a little something extra to excite a 2014 audience. “Oscar Wilde was a very sarcastic man; he did everything on purpose. He wanted to get people out of their seats to think differently, but he wanted to do it with deep sarcastic reach,” he said. “And we’ve approached it that way. We’ve added levels of cynical comedy into it as well and put it into a world where it’s 1890s England but it’s a hyper-real world.”
That said, keeping the historical context while not losing the freedom to play was a challenge. “There are people who are very big sticklers,” he said. “[But] theatre isn’t made just for people who understand theatre; it should be for everyone.”
Doran went on to say that before he and the actors started, he told them that every single character in the play was insane. “[The characters] are all megalomaniac narcissists,” Doran said. “There is no one there who’s a normal person that people can sit and relate to.” It was because of this that the actors were given the freedom to play the characters how they saw fit. “You go big and I’ll tell you when it’s too big and I’ll rein you in,” Doran laughed. “None of it’s farcical, but it has elements of it.”
When it comes to the cast, Doran said that he looks for “boldness, spontaneity, [and] the ability to find places that other people can’t”. He added that everyone in this play makes “big, bold choices”.
Doran is more known for his voice acting than anything else, so when asked about the transition to directing, he said, “When you’re an actor, you’re a piece, and when you’re a director, you’re the puppet master.”
As an actor, he said, you may not know what the final vision looks like, but as a director you get to angle it your way. “I’m a weird, quirky, funny person with a million voices in his head who has very distinct thoughts and I wanna go, ‘Let’s go very distinct’,” he said.
The first performance of the play was Doran’s Hart House debut.
Hogan, who played John, said that he was initially drawn to the play by the character of Algernon. “I never really considered myself John,” he said. “But after reading and working on it, I think I’m much more suitable for John than Algernon. His story is a lot like mine.” He said that playing a different character than he had originally been eyeing was not as difficult as it seemed—“[John] is more down to earth than Algernon is, and I’m down to earth as well,” he said.
Nevertheless, he prepared differently for this role because of the historical context, and understanding the characters was a process in itself. “We had a dialect coach come in and help us. They’re still human beings at the end of the day, but understanding what they could and could not do at the time is really important,” he said. “Cory gave us a bit of homework to start off, which was really helpful. Doing a bit of research into the period helped with our character.”
That said, Hogan is no stranger to playing characters from older plays, having also been in Emma and Waiting for Godot, and he said that there are a few things that draw him to these roles. “I like the text and the language. I’m a big fan of language, particularly the English language,” he said. “I think it can be really beautiful and really poignant when used correctly. And of course the costumes are always fun to wear.”
Hogan is on the fence about Doran’s stance on the characters not being relatable. His habit is to research difficult characters and try out different things. “These characters are taken way to the extreme,” he said. “You have your aristocratic playboy and your entrepreneurial types and your romantic young women, and I see these characters a lot—they’re just presented in different ways.”
He added that it was important for an actor to bring himself to the role. “[You have to] try and find whatever it is that you can relate to the character, and you do that to the best of your ability,” he said. “As far as unrelatable characters go, I think there’s always something in characters that everyone can relate to.”
The Importance of Being Earnest runs at the Hart House until October 4.