By Raye Weigel
A “bumbriest” is a person who creates a fictitious friend or relation to use as an excuse to avoid social engagements.
This word, invented in the play, might be the best to sum up The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, in which the protagonists both have fictitious personae whom they use to try to rope-in the women of their dreams.
The play builds on the concept of two women who are enamored with the name Earnest, rather than the personality traits a man by the name has. Because of this, both coincidentally fall for someone who doesn’t exist, only later finding out that the men to whom they are betrothed are not named Earnest after all.
This disgusts them.
The play takes part on a small stage, but tackles grand societal constructions such as marriage and gender roles. The theater in The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center was packed and roared with laughter as the two main characters had a mock-civil fight over muffins.
The play’s full title says it all: The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. The actors had over-the-top British accents and indulged in satire such as judging someone for being abandoned in a handbag after he was born.
As a gay man, Wilde himself struggled with society’s expectations. The play already tears apart social norms, but the fact that the two main characters are played by the opposite gender takes it more than one step farther.
Lady Bracknall is played by Radcliffe Adler, a senior theatre major, who transitioned from female to male when he was 19. With pursed lips, he swayed onto stage in a flurry of purple and silver skirts. His voice expertly captured the essence of an elderly aunt who knows what she wants, though it may not be rational.
Jack is played by Kristen El Yaouti, a senior theater and family sciences double major. She trounced around stage in a purple suit, exaggerating manly ways of sitting and leaning forward intently with one eyebrow raised when spoken to.
The characters were so exaggerated that they could throw glitter every time they entered the stage and it wouldn’t have come as a surprise. Their mock self-importance perfectly matched the themes and humor of the play. The audience broke out in peals of laughter as the haughty butler with a large mustache sauntered off stage in an almost Charlie Chaplin-esque fashion.
An integral part of the play was the stage. It was small, and the audience sat on risers in front of it. Instead of gazing up at the actors, the audience was looking down at them. Adding to the satire, this created the feeling of not just literally being above the characters, but being able to look down and see how absurd they are.
Though the play was first performed in 1895, it is still relevant today where there are national conversations about gender-neutral bathrooms, divorce rates and even polygamy.
The play ends with a fight over a plate of muffins. It’s unclear what happens after, but the audience left with the certainty that the women did not love the men for their characters, rather their names.
Featured Photo Credit: Kristen El Yaouti (left) as John Worthing “Jack” and Montana Monardes (right) as Algernon Moncrieff, perform during the dress rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest in the Kogod Theatre. El Yaouti senior theatre performance and family sciences double degree and a Creative and Performing Arts Scholar and Monardes is a junior theater major and the Co-Artistic Director of Kreativity. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.