To see the world premiere of a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy-farce “The Importance of Being Earnest,” you’ll need your coat, hat and gloves.
That’s because the Nittany Theatre at the Barn is opening its doors to its Boalsburg summer theater, which is not heated.
And Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s Producing Artistic Director Dave Saxe said the production is one worth bundling up for.
“We figure if thousands of people can come out to see the famous groundhog of Punxsutawney while standing outdoors on a snowy-frozen February day, surely, we have plenty of die-hard theater fans willing to give this new ‘Earnest’ a spin while sitting in the comfort of our cushy theater seats,” Saxe said. “We are set to produce a full-production of this ‘Earnest’ this summer at the Barn.”
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The most renowned of Wilde’s comedies, “The Importance of Being Earnest” tells the story of two bachelors, Jack and Algernon, who create alter egos named “Ernest” to escape their tiresome lives.
The comedy stars Will Snyder, John Koch, Laura Ann Saxe, Jocelyn Kotary and Julie Snyder, and is directed by Saxe, who also wrote the play under his pen name, Sterling Saxe.
Koch plays the role of Jack Worthing, the first “Ernest” in the play. Jack is a wealthy young man, the nominal “straight man” of the show, and the serious counterpart to his frivolous, humorous friend Algy.
“He is intended to represent the respectable portion of British society of the time,” Koch said. “He is also of a romantic nature, and it is his proposal to Algy’s cousin Gwendolen Fairfax that sets the play in motion.”
As this is a dramatic reading, and not a full production, the preparations are considerably simpler and more basic.
“Without the need for many props, sets and costumes, I can focus more on the character, his accent, mannerisms and motivations,” Koch said. “In a way, it is a purer form of acting than a full production.”
Snyder reads the part of Cecily Cardew, a very pretty, “English rose” type character. She is the ward of Mr. John Worthing, and has been raised in a country house with all the trappings of wealth and education. She is as romantic and ready to fall in love as anyone who is raised away from society and any men, except her guardian.
“She brings much humor to the farce with her fanciful view of love and her imaginary engagement to her love interest (Algernon, the other man posing as Ernest), which becomes quite real once they finally meet,” Snyder said. “She speaks her naive, but often correct, views on love and society with such complete candor and not a hint of sarcasm, which is the basis of much of the humor of her character.”
“The key to portraying such a ridiculous person is take her as seriously as she takes herself,” said Jocelyn Kotary, who plays the role of Gwendolen in the production. “She is often wrong, but never in doubt.”
Saxe had seen an off-Broadway production of “Earnest” last November and decided to create a pared down version of the original show, which was very lengthy.
“What struck me as a producer-playwright, wasn’t the dialogue and staging, it was the presence of the extra characters — servants and other secondary actors,” he said. “To me, Oscar Wilde’s storyline focused on five principal characters; and as I watched the older version, all I could see and think about were the five characters.”
He then started to think about how the play might read if he omitted a couple of characters and condensed the script more, so he did some do-it-yourself-editing.
“Originally set as a four-act play, and often done as three acts, I also thought about how to craft ‘Earnest’ into two acts,” Saxe said. “By the following weekend, under my nom de plume, a new adaptation of ‘Earnest’ was born.”
Because the show has been pared down so much from its lengthily original, the audience should find it more engaging, with faster pacing and continual laughs.
“It’s difficult for anyone to sit through a three-hour show of any kind, especially when it’s mostly dialogue and no ‘song and dance’ or ‘spectacle,’ ” Snyder said.
“As I usually do in a comedy, I mostly want the audience to enjoy the show, to laugh and have a good time,” Koch said. “Laughter is life-blood to comedy actors/authors, even more so than applause.”
According to Saxe, the response on social media has been wonderful surrounding the show, and they are expecting a brave audience willing to sit it out for the sake of excellent theater. Snyder said she is anticipating it to be a bit nippy for this performance.
“There are plans in place which I’m sure involve heaters, hot drinks and blankets,” she said. “My experience with the Barn, as a costumer there, has been dealing with extreme summer heat, so perhaps a bit of a chill will be a welcome change.”
“Hopefully, they will revel in the silliness and be transported somewhere warmer with the power of laughter,” Kotary said.
IF YOU GO
- What: Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, Boal Estate Drive, Boalsburg
- Info: nittanytheatre.org