Director's Notes

The Importance of Being Earnest was the last and greatest of Wilde's finished plays, a triumph produced a few short months before he was put on the most sensational and humiliating trial of the Victorian Era, and convicted of Gross Indecency. Earnest remains, just over a hundred years later, one of the greatest comedies in the English language, a darkly and deliciously subversive little piece, flooded with all the homoerotic imagery and subtext you'd expect from the last and best of the Aesthetic and Decadent writers.

It exists like a secret code, within and between the words, sharp and teasing and seductive, for the enjoyment of the gay society that had to remain so carefully concealed in the margins. Cecily, for example, the name of Jack Worthing's ward, was a contemporary term for a young male prostitute. Jack and Algy fight over buttered muffins, apparently blissfully unaware of all the double entendres for buttocks and lubrication or the fact that food is such a very obvious symbolic substitute for sex. And the silver cigarette case they fight over in Act 1 was a gift Oscar Wilde was known to have given several of his lovers. One imagines that in the darkness of the audience seats, there were secret smiles, whispers, the thrill of all things secret and forbidden, the love that dared not speak its name.

Nor is all of the subversive imagery given over to the homoerotic. Earnest, for all its surface simplicity, the meringue lightness of its romantic plots, is a sharp satire of the strictures of upper class Victorian society, as they could only have been written by a man who moved in it with seamless charm, but preferred the earthy company of rent boys and day laborers. If it is 'an age of ideals,' as Gwendolen Fairfax describes it, it is also an age of seeming, an age of fundamental insincerity in which appearances are everything. "He has nothing, but he looks everything," Bracknell raves of Algy, in defense of his eligibility to marry. "What more can one desire?" Indeed, in a society where style is everything and substance is discounted as unimportant, Algy is quite the perfect husband.

It became unbearably tempting to lift the play from its Victorian surroundings and replant it in lavish, decadent 1935 Hollywood, the one place the Haves still Had in a nation gripped by the Great Depression. Another age of seeming, in which style was king and glamour was queen. The hectic heyday of Piet Mondrian, Busby Berkeley, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Merle Oberon, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Gertrude Stein and, of course, the omnipresent threat of grinding poverty just beneath that glittering surface. Everyone looked to the movies, for entertainment, for a glimpse of a beautiful world without bread lines, a world of wealth, escape, adventure, true love, song, dance, sound, and increasingly, color. And the American aristocracy entrenching itself in the bright lights, glitter and glamour of Tinseltown had its own strict and bizarre rules to follow, social mores to be upheld, indentured studio servitude, and, no doubt, 'Bunburying' to be done when the pressure of towing the line simply got to be too much.

"In matters of great importance, style, not substance, is the vital thing." Earnest is Oscar Wilde at his finest; dry, sparkling, engaging, charming, wooing the audience with impossibly sharp wit and the secret underlying sentiment of a not-so-closet romantic.