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KSC Theatre Stages 'The Importance of Being Earnest'

KEENE, N.H. 9/25/02 - Keene State Theatre will stage The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wildes witty satire on the British upper class, at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Oct. 16-19, in the Main Theatre of the Redfern Arts Center. Tickets are $7 for the general public and $5 for KSC students, senior citizens, and youth 17 or younger. For tickets, call the box office at 603-358-2168.

The Importance of Being Earnest, considered a comic masterpiece, has been a favorite with audiences since its 1895 première because its such delightful fun, full of wit and whimsy, says PeggyRae Johnson, director of the Keene State production. Wilde, an early champion of the concept of art for arts sake, wrote poetry, novels, and short stories, but he made his greatest impact as a playwright. The opening of EARNEST became a social event among the elite even though the play poked fun at fashionable high society.

Earmest, now an oft-produced modern classic, has twice been translated to film - a 1952 movie and this years remake with Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon. Such media exposure is good, explains Johnson, because people are familiar with the storyline and may be curious to see Earnest on stage, where its meant to be seen.

Earnest is about Victorian manners and witty repartee, disguised in a story of love and mistaken identity. It follows two young men who bend the truth to add excitement to their upper-crust lives, but their contrivances get out of hand and they almost lose the ladies they are trying to woo.

The play presents a challenge for contemporary actors, Johnson says, because of the highly stylized manners of 1890s British society when people sat ramrod-straight in corsets and high collars and sipped tea with their little fingers extended. In addition, the language is the dialect of the British aristocracy at that time.

It is one of the classic period pieces, and we chose it to give students a full range of theatrical experience, says Johnson.

However, not all the actors are students. Two KSC faculty members, both from Keene, are cast members: Michael Haines plays Rev. Chasuble and Vaughn West plays Lady Bracknell. Another Keene resident, Jessica Palmer, plays Miss Prism.

The lead roles are played by students Jared Ball of West Lebanon as John Worthing, Alex Carey of Cummaquid, Mass., as Algernon Moncrieff, Sophie Ashton of Fitzwilliam as Gwendolen Fairfax, and Marisa Clement of West Hartford, Conn., as Cecily Cardew. The cast is complete with Brem Stoner of Barrington, R.I., as Lane, and Steve Gravelle of Merrimack as Merriman. Timothy LEcuyer of Merrimack is the stage manager and Kyla Longe of Reno, N.V., is assistant director. Meghan Fisher of Hudson and Nicole Harrington of Bedford, both are assistant stage managers.

Johnson decided to set the play outdoors using balcony and garden scenes instead of interior sets. The stage will be a realistic garden thanks to plantings and landscape materials contributed by three Swanzey businesses: Mrs. Bees Country Store and Gardens, Ground Up Landscape Materials, and Maple Hill Nursery and Green Houses.

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