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Students to perform “The Importance of Being Earnest”

| Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Notre Dame Film, Television and Theater program will present Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” this weekend, a self-proclaimed “trivial comedy for serious people,” senior and cast member Eric Ways said.  

Freshman cast member Gabe Krut said in many ways, the play relates to Notre Dame students’ lifestyles and experiences, adding elements of irony that may be unexpected for many audience members.

“Many of the characters make statements about views on education, material values and the silliness of social circles,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Stewart

Mary Elsa Henrichs, left, acts as Miss Prism in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ theater performance while Eric Ways plays Jack.

While the play was not originally chosen to comment on many of Notre Dame’s customs, the play inherently prods at values which often go unchallenged, including education, status and even religion, Ways said.

“I think students will find they can relate to many aspects of this play, and some won’t even realize that they’re the object of certain jokes,” he said.

Oscar Wilde was known for his biting social commentary, especially riddling his lines with several layers of irony, Krut said.

“As a ‘trivial play for serious people,’ some audience members won’t find humor in Wilde’s words because his satirical content is simply too much of a reality for them,” he added.

Mark Seamon, the show’s director, said he chose the play to be included in the lineup for the Debartolo Performing Arts Center this season in the hopes of showing a comedy this year.

Ways said the play was chosen because of its renown. 

“‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was chosen because it has status behind it, and any truly esteemed work of art should naturally point out peculiarities in modern society,” he said.

Of course, as an extremely dense comedy, the play is bound to touch aspects of everyone’s lifestyle, Ways added.

“For instance, service is an important part of many Notre Dame students’ university experience, but no one can serve unless they have the luxury to do so,” he said.

Oscar Wilde comments on the nature of these paradoxes, which propels the play‘s satirical nature. Ways said every aspect of the play’s language was specifically chosen to highlight levels of social and cultural examples of this.

“Wilde uses stage directions sparingly, but when he does so it’s very intentional and particular,” he said.

Krut said Seamon practiced extensively with the actors to ensure that this detailed wording would be delivered optimally.

“Our director stressed being word-perfect, because every single line in this play is so important to its overall message,” he said.

It is necessary to utilize the exact vocabulary Wilde intended for the play in order to understand its complete purpose behind each character and line, Ways said.

“As actors, it has been our job to render this delivery faithfully,” he said.

In addition to this focus on the words of the play, Ways said the behind-the-scenes work has been just as dedicated to providing accurate portrayals of the play.

“Several of the costumes we’ll be wearing were built completely from scratch by our costume designers, Rick Donnelly and Lynn Holbrook, with scrupulous precision,” Krut said.

Krut said the designers flew from New York to Los Angeles to curate the costumes with as much detail as possible.

“If the costumes were not hand-made, they were rented from other acclaimed productions,” he said.

The cast began rehearsing on Sept. 18 and has been meeting three hours per day, five days a week to prepare for the show.

“We’ve all been challenged to expose our vulnerabilities with one another, and have learned to respect and easily work with one another because of that,” sophomore and cast member Rachel Thomas said.

As a play that is meant to poke fun at all audience members, the cast has also learned to release their own inhibitions, Ways said.

“We’ve learned to not take ourselves too seriously — and that makes all the difference,” he said.

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