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Juniata Stages Oscar Wilde's 'Earnest' Farce with'60s Twist

(Posted February 10, 2014)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Double identities, double talk and double dealing all are on display in the Juniata College Theatre Department's production of the celebrated farce "The Importance of Being Earnest," which runs at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20 through Feb. 22 and from Thursday, Feb. 27 through March 1 in the von Liebig Theatre in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts.

Beginning with this production, the Juniata theatre program will start a "Pay What You Can" ticket initiative. To make reservations go to Juniata's Tixato.com account. Reservations are free and secure the seat for that evening's performance. Patrons can pick up tickets and, then, "Pay What You Can." The recommended ticket price is $10 but patrons are also welcome to pay nothing -- or $100. Patrons should pay what they can afford or whatever they believe the work is worth. https://juniatatheatre.tixato.com/buy/the-importance-of-being-earnest.

"The play is really sort of a mashup of many eras. The cast will be speaking Wilde's lines, while the sets and costumes recall Mod fashion."
Neal Utterback, assistant professor of theatre and director of the production

While playwright Oscar Wilde originally envisioned the play as set in an English country house, the Juniata theatre department has literally jazzed up the Victorian play by setting it in Swinging '60s London. So instead of seeing characters wearing frock coats and ruffled shirts, the audience will see the cast speaking Wilde's hilariously upper-crust dialogue wearing mini-skirts, op-art patterns and, well, ruffled shirts.

"The play is really sort of a mashup of many eras," explains Neal Utterback, assistant professor of theatre and director of the production. "The cast will be speaking Wilde's lines, while the sets and costumes recall Mod fashion and finally the audience will be encouraged to take Instagram photos and text and tweet during the production so modern-day social media will play a role."

The plot of the classic comedy will remain the same, although Utterback has added an Emcee character to occasionally offer information about Oscar Wilde and British Mod subculture.

To create the mood of 1960s Mod Britain, the von Liebig Theatre will be transformed into a swinging dance party with the entire set design created by Gus Redmond, a senior from Bethesda, Md. "The sets are meant to suggest a dance club," Utterback explains. "There will be a dance floor, a DJ booth and a VIP section, all decorated in a sort of fabulously 1960s style."

"The Importance of Being Earnest" was originally written by Irish poet Oscar Wilde in 1895 and was one of Victorian England's most popular farces. The plot of the comedy revolves around each cast member maintaining false identities so they can shirk boring social obligations. Comedy ensues when the characters' assumed identities become so convoluted that only author Oscar Wilde's inspired wordplay can save the production.

The play takes place among the English upper class, featuring rich, idle young Englishmen meeting sheltered youn English women, usually traveling with a companion or an older relative. The play is set in Victorian England, a few decades before today's current British-upper-class drama, "Downton Abbey." Like "Abby," "The Importance of Being Earnest" gets great comedy from marriageable English nobility and formidable dowagers with a sneering sense of propriety.

The play, which has been staged countless times around the world, adapted for film several times, and is currently being staged at Washington D.C.'s Shakespeare Theater Company, can be a mirror to satirize Victorian social manners and cultural practices. Indeed, the original title for the play is "The Importance of Being Earnest, a Trivial Comedy for Serious People."

Technical crew: Heidi Kleber, a junior from Morrisdale, Pa.; Eliot Turoff, a freshman from Sarasota, Fla.; Nathaniel Wright, a junior from Lancaster, Pa.; Ryan Gabriel, a sophomore from Milton, N.Y.; Dane Azeles, a senior from Duncansville, Pa.; Connor Hunter-Kysor, a junior from Huntingdon, Pa.; Ken Kysor, a senior from Port Alleghany, Pa.; Erik Wijmans, a sophomore from Menlo Park, Calif.; Kiah Mahy, a senior from Silver Spring, Md.; Adam Caraballo, a junior from Brooklyn, N.Y.; Doriana Hyman, a sophomore from Port Washington, N.Y.; Gus Redmond, a senior from Bethesda, Md.; Alex Zerjav, a junior from Pittsburgh, Pa.; Jen Dupee, a sophomore from Flanders, N.J.; Alex Heicher, a junior from Hummelstown, Pa.; Hannah Miller, a sophomore from Danville, Pa.; Holly Souchack, a sophomore from Scarsdale, N.Y.; Emily Brownholtz, a freshman from Andover, Mass.; and Wendy Briggs, a sophomore from Springfield, Va.

The cast is: Sara Lucchini, a senior from San Diego, Calif.; Gary Shoemaker, a senior from Summerdale, Pa.; Holly Souchack, a sophomore fromScarsdale, N.Y.; Patrick Rutledge, a freshman from Dubois, Pa.; Ethan Farrell, a junior from Damascus, Md.; Megan Smith, a junior from Scranton, Pa.; Jacob Sinclair, a sophomore from Mount Airy, Md.; Lauren Dobbs, a junior from Hillsborough, N.C.; Alison Kiernan McCauley, a junior from Montgomery, Pa.; and Libby Casey, a senior from Landisville, Pa.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.