Classes showcase 1895 comedy with campy, unique twist including audience interaction, muffins, drag
Students from the Words Gender and Performance class and English 334: Oscar Wilde class came together on Nov. 1 to perform scenes from Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Frank Manor House called ‘Wilde Night’. The unique presentation included various scenes from the play woven together in an immersive performance that engaged the audience.
Bella Kerr ’26, who played Gwendolyn Fairfax, described the performance as a somewhat campy take on the 1895 comedic play.
“‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a comedic play that involves themes of disguise, identity and escaping society’s frivolous expectations,” Kerr said. “We wanted to really make the play something fun and perhaps camp it up a bit.”
Kerr described their character as, “A city girl raised under the careful watch of her respectable Mama, Gwendolyn has a no- nonsense attitude and is very confident if not a bit pretentious.”
The scenes performed included all of the play’s main characters: Jack Worthing, Gwendolyn Fairfax, Algernon Moncrieff, Cecily Cardew and Lady Augusta Bracknell. Each of these roles were performed by students.
It was an immersive experience, as the audience followed the characters throughout Frank Manor throughout various scene changes.
Andrea Hibbard, the Gender and Performance professor, said the choice to use different rooms in the Manor House allowed them to separate different scenes in a unique manner. For example, in one key scene from the play, Jack learns that Algernon’s excuse for getting out of social engagements is a lie. Algernon’s fabricated sick friend ‘Bunbury’ allows the two to squabble about deception and escaping to the country.
“We used different spaces in the Manor House for different scenes,” Hibbard said. “We set the conversation between Jack and Earnest about Bunburying in front of the fireplace in the foyer. Then we moved to the Armstrong Lounge. Along the way, Lady Bracknell made a dramatic entrance down the spiral staircase from the second floor.”
The cast’s decisions enhanced the play’s satirical depiction of Victorian social life. Lady Bracknell had drag makeup on, and Jack made faces and hand gestures to the audience throughout the scenes.
“Our top priority was fun,” Hibbard said. “Professor (Jenna) Tamimi and I looked for scenes that seemed to promise the most laughs. Wilde’s play is a farce, it is filled with opportunities for physical comedy. Jack and Algernon fight over muffins, and Gwendolyn and Cecily compare their diaries. Almost all of the characters speak in epigrams.”
Iris Dimase-Nordling ’25 said that the costumes were elaborate, adding to the immersion, and fit with the overall theme.
“Jack and Algernon are of different classes and wealth statuses, so naturally Algernon got the more expensive looking clothing while Jack attempted to look the same,” Dimase-Nordling said “Cecily, on the other hand is Jack’s ward and also a young woman 18 years old. Her costume was meant to represent that idea of innocence and youth with the light colors and the flower crown.”
Snacks and tea were provided for all and the actors used real food as props during scenes, eating along with the audience.
“The muffin scene was not rehearsed with actual muffins until the performance,” Dimase-Nordling said. “Shoving an entire muffin into my mouth was not planned, scripted, or thought out at all. Which, despite not being able to speak clearly for a few long seconds, made it so much funnier.” She was referring to the scene where Jack and Algernon accuse one another of deceiving the women they know and bicker over wanting to be christened ‘Ernest.’ Jack Worthing says it best at the very end of the play: “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being earnest.”