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The GW Hatchet

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In play of mistaken identities, actors don’t have to look far for inspiration

Greta Simons | Hatchet Photographer
Greta Simons | Hatchet Photographer

Things were running behind schedule at the the last dress rehearsal before the 14th Grade Players’ production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” on Wednesday.

The rehearsal was pushed back 45 minutes as cast members hurried to brush on their makeup and crew members rushed to find last-minute “old-looking” books to add to the set’s empty bookshelf.

“Welcome to ‘The Importance of Being Punctual,’” senior set designer Jen Gushue said, addressing a fake audience in the stands.

Though the cast and crew scrambled to complete soundchecks, adjust costumes and make sure no one ate the first scene’s prop – a plate of cucumber sandwiches – they found their groove once they hit the stage.

Media Credit: Greta Simons | Hatchet Photographer

The delays helped create a farcical air that the cast will try to keep up throughout the weekend. The production of Oscar Wilde’s classic satire begins Thursday, inviting students into a world of haughty aristocrats, thick British accents, love triangles and mistaken identities.

The play follows the journey of friends Algernon Moncrieff and Earnest Worthing as they navigate through the social conventions of 19th-century Victorian society.

The confusion begins when we learn that the townsman we know as Earnest is really the countryman Jack, who has changed his name to win the heart of a woman who will only marry a man with the name Earnest.

Played by freshman Roger Jeannotte, Algernon adds irony to the mix, spitting out ridiculous lines with a confidence that, for a moment, almost makes them seem reasonable.

“I hate people who aren’t serious about dinner invitations. It’s so shallow of them,” he says when Earnest fails to invite him to dinner.

Yet the play does more than poke humor at the trivialities of life in the Victorian era.

As the plot unfolds, each character binds him or herself to an alternate persona, struggling to form an identity that is free of social constraints. The play explores the masks people don to portray themselves in a better light, a theme that resonates with today’s social media users.

Sophomore Flynn Beckman, who plays the role of Earnest, said he recognized similarities between his character and himself.

“[Earnest’s] got these faces that he puts on: fun-loving Earnest, and the other face he’s got is a serious face. He’s got Jack and his trying-to-impress-you face. But beneath those masks, he’s not sure who he is. And I feel like I identify a lot with that because I can’t say for sure who I am either,” Beckman said.

An interesting dynamic arises as the actors play characters that are acting themselves.

Junior Emily Messing, the artistic director, said the play’s message remains valuable years after it was first published, as people young and old put on alternate “faces” in place of their own.

“The great thing about it is that the theme goes forever. It’s ageless and it’s timeless. No matter who is going to see it, the audience will be able to identify with some part of it because we all do it at some point in our lives,” she said.

While most actors mastered their roles by meticulously studying scripts, sophomore Dillon Lewis, who plays the female part of Lady Bracknell, turned to Disney films.

“Actually, Anne Hathaway in ‘The Princess Diaries,’ taught me how to sit because [the character played by] Julie Andrews teaches [Hathaway’s character] to tuck her feet behind her. So every time I go onstage, I think about that when I sit down,” he said.

Sophomore director Angelina Hoidra saw no issue in casting a male in the traditionally female role, and focused instead on which actor could portray the character most truthfully.

The move has paid off, she said.

“I was on the train home for Thanksgiving, and I was thinking about Lady Bracknell, and how commanding of a character she is. And I thought, for somebody with that much presence in a show, that’s not something to define by a gender,” she said.

The performance, which runs two hours and 15 minutes, will debut Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at the Black Box Theatre on the Mount Vernon Campus. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $5 with cash or GWorld.

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