The Importance of Being Earnest: Students perform in Oscar Wilde’s comedy with a feathery twist

Whether it’s through top hats, feathers or spilled tea, each of the characters in Liberty University’s production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” seeks to find purpose in their trivial pursuits. 

The play surrounds the lives of two Victorian young men, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who attempt to find true love in their efforts to masquerade as someone else. 

Through the ruffling of feathers and quarreling over tea carts and cucumber sandwiches, Jack and Algernon begin to realize that there may have been some truth in their tomfoolery after all. Each of the characters use comedy and romance to bring substance to the most insignificant matters.

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

The performance opens with lively classical music ringing throughout the theater and a host of servants and maids promptly reorganizing the set of an ornately decorated, high-society apartment. Pastel yellow, pink and green lights cast a cheerful glow onto the set as the distant sounds of birdsong reverberate around the stage. The first act of the play invites the audience to see inside Algernon’s apartment and witness how he and his good friend Jack interact with one another as they discuss what they believe to be significant. It is this conversation that initiates the suitors’ quest in discovering the importance of being earnest in their romantic endeavors.

Alex Shultz plays the role of Algernon. Shultz is a junior and is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting. According to Shultz, each of the actors for this performance conducted extensive research regarding the Victorian era during winter break to prepare for the show.

Shultz admitted that while he has been able to relate to his character, he has enjoyed taking on the challenge of studying comedy and learning how to portray it in a fashion that is consistent with Wilde’s writing.

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

“I’ve definitely related to Algernon in a sense of using humor to navigate relationships,” Shultz said.  “As far as wit goes, (Algernon) is definitely one of the most quick-witted characters in the show.”

Throughout the rehearsal process, Shultz explained that “comedy is very precise” and that he has had to learn how to “choreograph” comedic moments to ensure that the jokes land properly. Most of the characters utilize satire to mock the reality of life or adopt “fake identities” to save their reputations.

“The whole basis of the show is that you have Victorian era men and women who have to conform to Victorian era standards, … and they have created ways to escape that,” Shultz said.

Shultz explained that the actors’ research was not just limited to analyzing Victorian life. He admitted that the director of the production, professor Chris Nelson, wanted to incorporate an exciting twist into the set’s design that required each of the cast members to study bird behavior.

“Our concept is a Victorian birdcage, so in regards to the set, it is being performed in a birdcage,” Shultz said.

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

Shultz said that implementing the bird concept into the show helped to make the acting process more exciting and energetic because all the main actors are “portraying birds who are putting on ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’”

The entire production has been heavily influenced by this concept, from set design, to costumes, to the ways in which the actors deliver their lines. For instance, Jack’s costume is inspired by an owl and includes a grayish-brown feathery design interwoven into his jackets, and a bright, teal feather bowtie adorns each one of his suits.

Morgan Forehand plays Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell, who is one of the leading ladies and the antagonist in the production. Forehand is a senior working toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting. According to Forehand, Bracknell’s outfit is slightly based on a chicken and includes bright orange feathers that embellish her hat as well as a feathery, burnt-orange wrap that lies atop her Victorian-style dress.

Forehand  explained that it was a challenge to learn how to act like a distinguished older woman from the Victorian era because the role required her to slow down her mannerisms and always remain poised. 

“(Lady Bracknell) is not afraid to speak her mind, and I think I connect with her in that way because I’m definitely not afraid to speak my mind on certain things,” Forehand said.

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

While the comedic nature of the production is a prominent element within the show, both Shultz and Forehand admitted that there is much grander value to the story because of how it can positively influence the audience and encourage the viewer.

“I think God absolutely has plans to use comedy in media and theatre, and sometimes we don’t know what that will look like or how that will take shape until it happens,” Shultz said.

Although not all audience members will leave the show with the same impression, Shultz and Forehand emphasized how taking joy from any and every situation is so important in today’s age.

“I think there’s absolutely messages of just friendship and love that God will use and work in people’s lives, and if that’s just to get away for two hours, … I think that is extremely valuable too,” Shultz said. 

“The Importance of Being Earnest” will be showing in the Black Box Theater
from March 22 to 30. For ticket information, visit this website.

Davis is the feature editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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