In staging “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Live Oak Theatre of Brooksville honors a milestone in the history of this legendary Oscar Wilde play. This critically acclaimed comedy, to be presented at the Carol & Frank Morsani Center for the Arts, 21030 Cortez Boulevard, Brooksville, on February 5, 6, 7. 12, 13, & 14, will mark the 126th anniversary of the production’s debut performance.
“The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” was first performed on Feb. 14, 1895, at the St James’s Theatre in London. In the years that have followed, the play has been produced on Broadway and at numerous other theatres around the world. And the play has been adapted to big and small screens at least 30 times, with one popular 2002 version starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett, Frances O’Connor, Judi Dench, and many other screen luminaries.
“‘The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’ by Oscar Wilde, is the story of a man whose name is Ernest (or is it?) who is pursuing the hand of the beautiful and modern Gwendolyn,” explains a Live Oak press release. “Meanwhile another Ernest (or is he?) is anxious to meet the lovely Cecily, ward to Jack Worthing. Hilarity ensues as each Ernest meets at the Worthing Estate and the ladies discover they are both engaged to Ernest. How will these love birds disentangle themselves from this mess, and will the truth about Ernest be found out?”
“‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is one of my favorite plays and I’m a huge fan of the movie as well. I revisited the play one beautiful afternoon last spring in the middle of the lockdown and I immediately reached out to Kris Mitten with the idea of producing it at Live Oak,” said Randi Olsen, show director and Live Oak president and artistic director. “Not only was it brilliantly written with a timelessly endearing and entertaining plot, one with a small cast, but it also happened to be in the public domain, which meant we could launch the production with little out of pocket expense.”
She and Mitten also share the role of Lady Bracknell in Live Oak’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
“I was also, of course, immediately drawn to the role of Lady Bracknell. It’s not often you find a fun and challenging ‘mother’ role these days!” said Olsen. “Kris and I are looking forward to offering our different takes on this fabulous role with our two completely different casts!”
Mitten also feels that “Earnest” is the bright, sophisticated comedy greatly needed by today’s audiences. “This is exactly what we need right now,” she said. “Its sophistication is actually nonsense and the high spirits are silly and fun and nothing actually makes sense, and it all ends in a happy ending (which Miss Prism tells us is how we know it’s fiction), but a happy ending is what we’re all hoping for right now.”
Olsen affirms that through the viewing of this production, audiences will be transported. “I have always loved stories because they have the ability to transport you to a different time and place. Now that we’ve found ourselves with limited travel and entertainment possibilities, I think our production can help fill that void,” she said. “We hope to transport our audience to Victorian England where tea and crumpets reign supreme over politics and pandemics.”
“And when they are transported, they will discover a true comedy of manners,” said Mitten.
“Wilde calls it a trivial comedy for serious people…. Due to the social constraints of the period, John Worthing gives himself a second identity so he can relax a little while in London and not always have to be the perfect role model to his young ward, Cecily. This sets up the plot in which John’s love interest, Gwendolen meets him under his assumed name of Earnest (which turns out is the only name she will consent to marry to),” she said. “His friend and Gwendolen’s cousin, Algernon, wants to meet John’s young (and he hopes pretty) ward and assumes the part of Earnest to meet her (she is already secretly in love with the nonexistent Earnest). In the midst of all this Gwendolen’s mother is trying to find a suitable husband for Gwendolen, and Miss Prism is trying to provide a proper education for Cecily.”
And like many historically based productions, “The Importance of Being Earnest” presents special challenges for the play’s crew. “Costuming is always interesting; finding the right fit for each actor, matching the period, and keeping costs in line can be a challenge, but the right costume brings the character to life for both the actor and the audience. The language is very precise and much more formal than our modern tongues are used to, which has led to a lot of laughter and tongue-twisting during rehearsal,” Mitten explained. “For the setting, a home parlor, a garden, and sitting room is not as much changed as the costume and language, we just need a few extra late Victorian ornaments for sparkle.”
Live Oak Theatre has announced the cast of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The cast is as follows:
John Worthing, J.P. – Spencer Mitten and Ben Staley
Algernon Moncrieff – Jacob Ivey and Kaiden Rossiter
Lady Bracknell – Kristina Mitten and Randi Olsen
Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax – Jessalyn Berard and Lenia Richards
Cecily Cardew – Elizabeth Kessel and Lexi Allocco
Miss Prism, Governess – Julie Hofstede and Dawn Hester
Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D. – Greg Mys and Hal Lester
Merriman, Butler – Vince Vanni and Stephen Rees
Lane, Manservant – Vince Vanni and Stephen Rees
Vanni, also a Live Oak spokesperson, also feels that now is the ideal time to supply audiences with some “Earnest” entertainment.
“It’s time to sit back, relax and laugh a little,” he said. “In a time of so much stress, health threats, and social unrest, this is an evening to just enjoy yourselves. This is British subtle comedy, with some American influence thrown in … just for the fun of it.” Vanni feels, furthermore that, owing to the talent and experience of the Live Oak cast, this classic production is in talented hands.
“Aside from the fact that, over the years, our young people have grown to be extremely skilled, we know we could tackle it with two casts. We were confident that we could do it justice and make it a fun experience for our audience,” he said. “Those who attended our ‘Bard Unleashed’ were shocked that we made Shakespeare so much fun. In addition, most theatre groups were really hit financially by the pandemic. No one can afford high royalties at this time. ‘Earnest’ is in the public domain…as was Shakespeare. This is a good opportunity for families to enjoy an evening or afternoon out together and appreciate the works of some of the great playwrights; like Oscar Wilde.”
All seating for this Live Oak Theatre production is socially distanced by pods. Showtimes are at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Adult tickets are only $20; children ages 13 and younger are $5 when purchased with an adult ticket. Tickets include coffee, tea, and dessert, with snacks also available for purchase. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.LiveOakTheatre.org or email [email protected] or call 352-593-0027. If you purchase tickets under different names and wish to be seated together, you must email the box office at [email protected] or call 352-593-0027.
“We always want people to come to Live Oak assured of a family-friendly good time,” said Mitten. “The arts are a part of our human connection throughout the millennia. In our modern times of private video streaming and impersonal blockbusters, to sit down watching friends and colleagues in a personal way is a connection with the past, and I hope is building more community for the future.”