“’Tis just a flesh wound!”
“I’m not dead yet!”
“T’was brillig and the slithey toves did gyre and gimble…”
There’s something unique about the way Brits bring about a laugh—a whimsy born of utter nonsense that at the same time skirts the edge of reality and pinches the noses of society.
From CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll to William Shakespeare and Monty Python, the British rule in their unique brand of laughter. One of their greatest? Irish author Oscar Wilde.
Wilde had a personality matching his name. He was an aesthete – a lover of beauty and a master of wit who could turn out comedies for stage or horror novels (does The Portrait of Dorian Grey ring a bell?) with ease.
Among his great plays is “Salome” – a telling of the young lady who danced for the king and called for John the Baptist’s head – and the comic satire, “Lady Windemere’s Fan.”
Most famous – and considered by some to be the greatest of English language comedies – was his 1895 “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
Wilde’s official website describes it as “a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae to escape burdensome social obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play’s major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways.”
It's accurate, but it’s rather like describing glorious banquet as “dinner.” The characters are remarkable and impressive in their triviality, and the dialogue is sheer genius. The leads are serious Jack (a kind of straight man) and hedonistic fount of witdom Algernon, who continually maneuver and verbally duel over – what else? – true love. It features one of the most coveted roles for women in theater, that of the towering and controlling Lady Bracknell. Here are a few quotes from this show—most uttered by the ever-frivolous Algernon:
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”
“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness.”
“To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.”
“I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything if I liked.”
I have always loved this show and have directed it, myself, twice, and performing as Jack. I am thrilled that NCHT is doing the show for the spring (March 15-17 and 22-24, performing at Gover C. Fields Middle School). The capable first lady of the Craven County theater scene, Sue Baldwin, is directing and I know she’ll do a great job.
Part of NCHT’s mission is to keep the classic plays alive, and to remind theater goers of what a great night of entertainment they can be. Grab your tickets and we’ll see you on the boards!