ASHLEY MULLEN ’15
On Thursday, Dec. 6 the Trinity College Jesters presented “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a play written in 1895 by the famous author Oscar Wilde. Directed by students Gaia Cloutier ’16 and Allison Stegeland ’15, the play took place in Performance Lab 152 of the Trinity Commons, and included a group of nine other Trinity students ranging from Freshmen to Juniors. The three act play starred David Field ’15 as the protagonist Jack Worthing, and John Stiller ’14 as the witty Algernon Moncrieff, known as Algie. The rest of the cast was made up by Mary Iris Loncto ’16, Corrina Lyon-Hall ’16, Kyra Saniewski ’15, Dora Shao ’16, Sierra Slade ’15, Allison Stegeland ’15, and Sarah Wallingford ’15.
Illustrating a humorously upbeat and wildly accurate comedy about Victorian society and manners, “The Importance of Being Earnest” follows the protagonist Jack Worthing in his attempts to live a double-life. In keeping with his embodiment of two personas, he uses the name Jack in his life in the country, and the name Ernest in his life in the city. Jack, played by Field, wore a trim black dress suit and top hat, creating a major contrast to Algie, played by Stiller, who dressed in a similar Victorian-era black suit, but topped it off with a colorful silk bowtie. The authentic costumes of the actors also provided a creative contrast to the lack of scenery in the performance lab, which only contained four chairs, two tables, and various props such as teacups and cucumber sandwiches.
In the play, Oscar Wilde’s clever witticisms are conveyed through every character’s actions and phrases, in which a satirical view of marriage is seen with a cynical and critical eye. In the first scene of the play, Algie displays an opinion about marriage while talking to Jack when he says, “…if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.” Using the imaginary person of Bunbury as a means of escape, Algie tells Jack how every husband needs a regular respite from his marriage. The fact that he exposes this taboo infidelity in such candid terms gives the scene a measure of humor, while also illustrating the natural cynicism that Oscar Wilde sees in relation to marriage.
Stiller portrayed the character of Algie with humorous gestures and extravagant hand flourishes that perfectly reflected Algie’s carefree and comical personality. The actor managed to reveal Algie’s cynical and pessimistic view of marriage with short phrases such as, “Divorces are made in Heaven” and “If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact,” encouraging the lively Trinity audience in the performance lab to laugh continuously. Algernon makes no effort to hide the fact that he does not like the idea of marriage, which ultimately changes later in the play when he meets Jack’s ward, Cecily. But before his introduction to Cecily, Algernon treats marriage with humorous disdain and mockery, a complete contradiction to Jack’s almost reverent view of a marriage.
The play also features ironic jokes about death throughout the course of the plot. In Lady Bracknell’s first appearance onstage, she talks about death in relation to her friend Lady Harbury, saying, “I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.” Instead of giving sympathy and condolences in regard to a friend’s death, Lady Bracknell invokes humor in describing how Harbury’s death affected his wife, Lady Harbury. Although no major characters die in the storyline, the death of outside characters help Oscar Wilde to include his own witty aphorisms about life. Lady Bracknell later treats death as an inconvenience that she cannot be bothered with, which is seen in her conversation with Algernon about his imaginary friend Bunbury as she says, “I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.” Lady Bracknell acts as if death is something that a person actually has control over, giving her an air of cruel ignorance and indifference. Her casual treatment of the grave situation of death gives the play a new layer of dark humor, while also connecting to Oscar Wilde’s inherent idea of life being a work of art.
Oscar Wilde’s invention of words such as “shilly-shallying,” and his inclusion of satirical and witty aphorisms that give the play a comedic air, were creatively intertwined with the student directors’ own creative license. The two directors inserted humorous musical clips to enhance the satirical nature of the romance between Jack and Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Gwendolen. Overall, the student directors created a unique and engaging version of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” in which the student actors professionally and hilariously portrayed the tongue-in-cheek tone of Oscar Wilde’s own voice.