“The Importance of Being Earnest” garners many laughs

Jack Worthing (played by Matthew Sythandone) reluctantly shakes hands with Algernon Moncrieff (played by Tyler Grabarczyk).

Audience members young and old were entertained with the unique and satirical comedy at the drama department’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” on Friday, Dec. 5 and Saturday, Dec. 6. Set in Victorian England, the play involves very different manners and language than that of today’s modern world.

“As you try to do a comedy that’s over 120 years old, it’s a bit of a challenge. You have to learn the manners and the style and the speech patterns,” drama department director Jeannie Brzovic said.

The production was scheduled to be in November, but was postponed until December. With the delay came a change in cast, and Matt Sythandone became the lead role of John Worthing two weeks before the performance.

“I honestly am speechless on how well [the production] went. It’s kind of surreal how well it went for having such a short time to work with a new member,” Grabarczyk said.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” was written by Oscar Wilde over a century ago, and involves heaps of satire that pokes fun at the English aristocracy, their shallowness, and their ridiculous code of manners.

The story begins with a wealthy Englishman named Algernon Moncrieff, played by Tyler Grabarczyk, who receives his good friend John Worthing (known casually as Jack), played by Sythandone.

It is soon revealed through conversation that Jack lives a double life, where he can be himself in the country and pretend to be his “brother” Ernest while in the town.

Algernon admits to a double life also, as he pretends to have a friend in the country named Bunbury so he can have a reason to escape the town for pleasure.

After their double lives are established to the audience, Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen, played by Cassie Stires, and her mother show up. Jack is in love with Gwendolen, but she only knows Jack as his fake persona, “Ernest,” creating a complication. To add to that, Gwendolen professes she would only marry a man named Ernest, as she finds the name perfect. 

I honestly am speechless on how well [the production] went. It’s kind of surreal how well it went for having such a short time to work with a new member.”

— Tyler Grabarczyk

Jack ends up proposing to her as Ernest. Her mother, Lady Bracknell, finds him a fine suitor until she learns he was adopted and changes her mind. She refuses to let Jack marry her daughter.

Act II takes place in the garden at the manor house out in the country. Cecily, played by Amanda Petrowski, and Miss Prism, played by Emma Dortsch, are the only ones there, but Rev. Chasuble, performed by Kyle Henderson, shows up to meet Prism. Chasuble went on to say one of the best received jokes of the evening before leaving with Prism.

“When I said, ‘If I was Miss Prism’s pupil I would hang upon her lips,’ that was my best moment,” Henderson said.

Algernon then appears and pretends to be Ernest so that he can be with Cecily. He proposes to her and she confesses, very ironically  and just as ridiculously as Gwendolen, that she also wants to be with a man named Ernest very badly.

Soon Jack shows up and pronounces his brother Ernest dead. Much to his surprise, Cecily and Algernon appear, with Algernon still being perceived as Ernest, creating quite the awkward situation. They both end up leaving and later Gwendolen enters to see Cecily.

Gwendolen and Cecily are instant friends, but soon figure out they’re both engaged to the same Ernest. They then declare to be no longer friends and express hatred towards each other. Algernon and Jack come back and all is revealed between the four, provoking lots of laughter from the crowd.

Gwendolen and Cecily befriend each other once more and depart, leaving Jack and Algernon. They end up fighting, and then act closes with Jack stuffing his mouth with food.

This comical part of the play was not a part of the script, but was improvisation on the part of Sythandone.

“We cut like half a page of dialogue and I knew Matt didn’t know what to say so he just shoved food in his mouth,” Grabarczyk said.

Nevertheless, the accidental update to the play caused the audience to roar with laughter.

Act III begins with Cecily and Gwendolen’s reappearance. Near instantly they all forgive each other and are back together, adding to the shallowness shown in the characters.

Lady Bracknell then enters and surprises everyone. She disapproves of Cecily and Algernon’s engagement, but changes her mind when she learns that Cecily is worth a very large sum of money, again showing the shallow criticism Wilde had for the English aristocracy.

I heard a lot of laughing… If they’re laughing at the jokes at the right places then I’m like, ‘we got it.’”

— Jeannie Brzovic

Jack declares that, as Cecily’s guardian, he won’t consent to her marriage unless he is allowed marry Lady Bracknell’s daughter, Gwendolen. Bracknell cannot accept this do to the uncertainty in his past and parentage.

It is discovered through Miss Prism that Jack was birthed by Bracknell’s sister, making him Algernon’s older brother. Bracknell informs him he would’ve been named after his father, who was an army general. After inspecting the army lists, he learns his father’s real name was Ernest, making him ironically correct all along in calling himself Ernest.

The play ends with the three couples falling in love (Ernest and Gwendolen, Algernon and Cecily, Miss Prism and Chasuble), and with Ernest declaring that he understands “the vital importance of being earnest.”

As previously mentioned, the play included near exorbitant amounts of satire, sarcasm and dramatic irony. Counterintuitive statements filled the play, with generally the women saying things such as, “If you are not too long, I will wait for my whole life.”

The audience responded positively to the irony and satire.

“I heard a lot of laughing… If they’re laughing at the jokes at the right places then I’m like, ‘we got it,’” Brzovic said.

Being the drama’s second production of the year, this was no easy play to perform. It was very sophisticated and included drastically different styles from our own to be learned.

“Theres a lot of losing your modern personality to become a Victorian era personality… [Also] it’s a lot of words… [and] vocabulary,” Brzovic said.

Even though the play was very complex, the main consensus from the performers was that the play went better than expected.

“I’m very pleased with the audience that came and I’m pleased with the outcome of the first performance,” Sythandone said.

Now with their second production done, the drama department prepares for their musical “Gypsy” scheduled to come out later next calendar year.