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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Wilde About Earnest

A few (relatively) recent comments about The Importance of Being Earnest -- the Flatwater Shakespeare / Haymarket Theatre co-production, directed by Bob Hall, opens April 16. Call 477-2600 soon! (The photo is from the first production in 1895, featuring Allan Aynesworth and George Alexander.)

Naomi Goulder, Online Review London, 2004.

Wilde’s impeccable comedy of manners [is] blithe, shocking, and flawlessly observed.

Adapted from Philip V. Allingham, The Victorian Web, 2005.

According to George Sampson in The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature (1961), The Importance of Being Earnest "is one of the two best comedies" written in English since the 1700s [the other is Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man]. The play centers around the aspiration of a young aristocrat named Jack Worthing for the hand of the more obviously blue-blooded Gwendolyn Fairfax. The marriage is opposed by the girl’s mother, the imperious Lady Bracknell, because of Worthing’s obscure origins: he was found as an infant in a handbag in London’s Victoria Railway Station (still the terminus for trains to the south of England), and consequently has no idea as to who his real parents are. Eventually the difficulty is resolved . . . .

The play opened at London’s St. James’s Theatre on Valentine’s Day, 14 February, 1895 with actor-manager George Alexander in the leading role; Alexander had produced Wilde’s first stage success, Lady Windermere’s Fan, in 1892. Ever since that opening, the play’s action and dialogue, which George Rowell [in The Victorian Theatre] describes as "ridiculous but irresistible," has never failed to convulse audiences throughout the English-speaking world. Wilde said of the play, "It has as its philosophy

. . . that we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality."

From Caryn James, The New York Times, 2008.

Deep in the third act of the Pearl Theater Company’s entertaining production of The Importance of Being Earnest, I realized how much the sitcom Frasier owes to Oscar Wilde. Jack Worthing, this play’s proper, endearingly puffed-up gentleman, is echoed in Frasier; Jack’s more foppish, droll brother (as it turns out), Algernon Moncrieff, is Niles. And their swift, sardonic repartee in Wilde’s masterpiece ripples through the ages, surfacing — with conscious influence or not — in the most surprising places.

From John Hartl, Seattle Times, 2009.

Always relevant, Oscar Wilde’s more perceptive jokes and epigrams can make you feel as if someone’s reading your mind.

Quotable Wilde from Earnest:

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." (Algernon Moncrieff)

"In married life, three is company and two is none." (Algernon Moncrieff)

"To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune . . . to lose both seems like carelessness." (Lady Bracknell)

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his." (Algernon Moncrieff)

"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means." (Miss Prism)

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train." (Gwendolen Fairfax)


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