Tonight Mills women will invoke the sordid and eccentric spirit of humorist and playwright Oscar Wilde in what marks the drama department’s final performance of the semester with its production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Performed in Lisser Hall and running through Saturday, the play is the culmination of the Rehearsal and Performance drama class’s semester-long training.
Through the escapades of two adventure seeking gentlemen who invent imaginary alibis for their respective travels into the city or countryside, Wilde cemented his skill for satire by challenging society, shallowness, idleness and social climbing in this, his final play.
Although originally performed in 1895, director and Mills lecturer Martin Berman has set the play in the time period of the 1960s. Underscoring the change in the play’s look, women play the parts of men and the music of The Beatles sets the tone for the decade.
Despite these topical differences, Berman said that the time period is unessential in keeping with the integrity of the play and that the traits of self-absorption and self-obsession that Wilde parodies are the same in any era.
“It almost doesn’t have a time period,” Berman said of the play. “Any upper class that thinks itself above others can be satirized. But he [Wilde] did it in such a way that the people he was making fun of were able to appreciate it and laugh.”
Erika Rikard, who performs one of the play’s male characters, said she is glad to be doing a play not driven by the necessity of an all-or mostly female cast.
” I’m excited because I get to play a man. That worked out well for me,” she said. “It’s really good to be performing something well-known.”
Berman emphasized that from the acting and the lighting, to the music and the costumes, this is a student-run production under the guidance of faculty. According to Berman, this is about the 20th time the Rehearsal and Performance class has put on a campus play. And each year, depending on the size, interests and abilities, the resulting play varies. “I try to get a sense of what might be best for that particular group,” said Berman.
Another significant marker of this play is its relation to the elimination of the dramatic arts department. “It’s the second to last one of these,” said Rikard, referring to the fact that next year’s performance at this time will be the department’s final production.
Although Berman is not sure what he will direct for the final, and what he called a momentous occasion, he spoke of wanting to go out with a bang.
According to Theatre Production Specialist Angela J. Henderson, there will be a total of three productions next year and the first will be an elaborate performance of Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens.”
“The idea is that it will be huge. The only limit of casting is in the number of people that will fit into the dressing room,” she said.
Drama Department Head Gemma Whelan will direct the second production, a version of Anton Chekhov’s “Dancing at Lughnasa.”
For now, Berman and the class look forward to their long-awaited performance and seemed glad to be working with Wilde’s classic.
“When you have a play that’s well written, it’s fun to do,” added Berman.