I believe that if you do your job as a director, there should be very little left to say. As Shakespeare's Theseus says in A Midsummer Night's Dream, "your play needs no excuse." So, I use my Director's Notes to explain a bit about why I choose the plays I direct.
The Longwood Players' production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest opens tonight. Performances run November 9, 10, 15, 16, 17. More info.
For me, theatre has always been an escape. It is a place where I can temporarily retreat from the hectic drama of daily life into a universe that is distinctly "other." Nowhere have I experienced this hideaway more potently than in community theater, where actors, designers, and technicians have unknown lives with family, friends, a career—fulltime pursuits from which we magically escape… to play.
This year, I'm delighted to be directing two challenging and charming plays that dwell constantly on the very idea of hidden lives. While it's evident that the theme of the "secret identity" resonates with me personally, I hope that you, as an audience, will feel its relevance to your own lives too. What masks do we create in politics, academia, work, and our daily lives?
This spring, we'll explore secret identities with the joyous Bock & Harnick musical She Loves Me. From the pen pal love affair to the delivery boy who dreams of becoming a clerk, the characters in She Loves Me are constantly turning to their fantasy lives, perhaps as a happier alternative to facing the harsh reality of 1930s working class America.
Today, though, we invite you and challenge you to join us in 1895 England. Rather than hiding from the harsh poverty of the Depression, our characters in Earnest find themselves escaping from the manners and etiquette of the Victorian aristocracy. They each lead a double life, where the idealized or imagined self is contrary to what society perceives. Algy and Jack enjoy their bachelorhood under false pretenses, Cecily and Gwendolen romanticize their engagements, Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble conceal surprising secrets of their own, and even the servants are caught between two worlds. As an ensemble, we have tried to shape a story in which surprise is a matter of course. If you, like Lady Bracknell, "sincerely hope nothing improbable is going to happen," you may very well have come to the wrong play.
Earnest delights in the improbable and revels in secrets, promises, and mischief. Yet, it is all done with the unmistakable charm and wit of Oscar Wilde that, I believe, is still inimitable. And though Oscar's hidden life was his downfall in the end, I hope there is consolation in the fact that this quintessential Irish dramatist has given us the opportunity in Boston 2007 to engage you with your own inner Bunbury. And to share with you just a bit of our own.
About the Text
The Earnest most widely known—and performed today—was published in 1899 and prepared by Wilde in prison. This was four years after Wilde had written the play and after an extensive public scandal left the playwright disgraced and bankrupt. With all of his original drafts either destroyed or lost to auction, Wilde had only a single performance script and his own memory to aid him as he prepared the play for publication.
A hundred years later, with numerous manuscripts now recovered, there is considerable debate over what the "definitive" Earnest is. Wilde's original draft was a four-act version, trimmed down at the director's request. But Wilde certainly inserted many of his own improvements during the course of revision, both for performance and publication. How can we possibly divine Wilde's true intent?
Our performance is based largely on the familiar three-act version of the play. In many cases, however, we have restored scenes and bits of dialog from earlier drafts. Essentially, it is a four-act Earnest with many of the author's "improvements" included. We hope that you enjoy this rare opportunity to experience Wilde's brilliant Gribsby scene, the third proposal and, of course, the lobster.