Through some tasteful identity theft and mouthfuls of cucumber sandwiches, hilarity happened on the Hill the evenings of Oct. 5 and 6, as senior drama majors presented Oscar Wilde’s classic romp, The Importance of Being Earnest.
The production, received by sold-out crowds in the Hill Theatre, was the senior thesis of four Kenyon drama majors: Sean Seu ’19, the show’s director; Laurel Waller ’19, who designed the costumes and set; and actors Jeffery Searls ’19, ( Jack Worthing) and Ez Raider-Roth ’19 (Algernon Moncrieff).
Both nights, the audience responded to the show with enthusiasm, and the actors frequently needed to pause for their laughter. While Wilde’s script contains enough humor to make any crowd laugh, it was Searl’s and Raider-Roth’s talent that sent the audience over the edge. The two had great onstage chemistry, playing off each other’s quirks and dramatics. Many of the play’s scenes simply feature Jack and Algernon riffing, and yet the actors’ performances and Seu’s dynamic direction ensured these scenes were always engaging.
This is the first senior thesis of the year, and has set a high-bar for the rest of this season’s productions. “The senior thesis itself is a much more abridged rehearsal process, a little over a week less rehearsal time than a main stage, but it provides this amazing opportunity to create theatre with your peers and collaborators without the power structure that accompanies departmental shows by nature,” Raider-Roth said of working on the show.
Originally written in 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest mocks the stuffy, artificial culture of aristocratic Victorian England. Jack, a landowner with responsibilities in the countryside, lies about having a brother named Ernest in order to live a double-life in the city. Algernon, a friend of “Ernest” in the city, discovers Jack is tricking him and reveals he engages in a similar kind of ruse. Trouble ensues when Jack’s love interest, Gwendolen Fairfax, reveals she is only interested in marrying a man named Ernest, and both Jack and Algernon find themselves caught up in their lies. The result is a laugh-out-loud satire of Wilde’s society and the lengths people go to in order to avoid social responsibility.
Seu’s direction took full advantage of the opportunities for physicality in Wilde’s script. From the very first scene, characters moved around the set, leaping onto furniture, and invading each other’s space, including one particular moment of hilarity when two characters fought over a teetering tower of muffins and teacake. Making use of the beautiful set, the actors had no problem whatsoever establishing themselves in the space, as they hit every stride in Wilde’s witty script. Another dazzling feat — and directoral risk — were the many lines delivered with muffin-stuffed mouths.
“I ate a burger for dinner on Friday and that was a huge mistake because I was too full by the time the muffin scene rolled around,” Raider-Roth said.
The costumes added both pizazz and nuance to the performances and personalities of the play. The blue apparel worn by Delilah Draper ’22, playing Gwendolyn Fairfax, during the first act and Alegernon’s dramatic wardrobe throughout, was enough to prove Waller’s skills. The clothing accentuated each character well without overshadowing the actors’ performances. In a standout moment, Searls burst onstage, lamenting the death of his nonexistent brother in dramatic black funeral garb, complete with a cape). Waller was obviously having fun– and so did we.
Raider-Roth’s comedic timing was impeccable, and Searls brought sincerity to his character’s over-the-top problems by balancing humor with heart. Draper was also a delight as Gwendolen Fairfax, carrying herself with a pretentious air that suited her character perfectly. Her scene with Light Rake, the stylish, superficial socialite, gave an extremely impressive performance, as the characters sparred with each other while staying in line with social expectations.
All in all, the show was a great success and provided the Kenyon community with some earnestly needed laughs.