Theater department nails Wilde comedy with authenticity, dedication

Geneseo’s Department of Theater and Dance staged a production of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest” from Nov. 9-13. Directed by professor of theater Randy Kaplan, the play transported audience members to 1890s England. Through the use of beautiful costumes, a lavish set and old English accents, this famous play came to life. Such a successful production, however, does not come easily. The cast and crew faced a number of challenges while preparing for the opening night, but all were ironed out by the time eager playgoers were settled into their seats at the Alice Austin Theater.

Fancy red and white walls, a gorgeous chaise lounge and an antique wooden table created the atmosphere of an old London apartment in Act I. In addition to this authentic setting, cast members were decked out in old-fashioned and extravagant 1890s attire, which proved to be a challenge for the cast.

Theater major senior William Gfeller played Lady Bracknell, a snobbish and eccentric character. This required Gfeller to learn how to navigate naturally across the stage while wearing a corset, long train, wig and heels.

“The biggest challenge for me was learning how to walk in a dress and heels and a corset,” Gfeller said. “It was difficult to adjust to a different style of dress, but I eventually learned to walk gracefully.”

Another challenge for cast members was nailing the accent.

“I think accent and language were the hardest part of the whole production, especially because the language is so dense and the accent required a lot of concentration,” psychology and English double major senior Paige Gordon said.

In order to learn how to eloquently speak in an English dialect, Kaplan gave the actors a CD on British/Standard dialect. Since the show was cast in the spring, the cast was expected to listen to the CD and to practice over the summer so that they would be prepared by the time rehearsals rolled around in the fall. The actors were also regularly coached and given notes regarding their accents throughout the rehearsal process, according to Gfeller.

In addition to the dialect, the actors focused on enunciation and projection to ensure that the audience understood important points of the plot. Theater major senior Brodie McPherson played Algernon Moncrieff, who is one of the principal roles in the production.

Algernon is vital to the show because he reveals various elements in the plot that lead to the climatic end of the play. McPherson was able to make these important plot points clear through his enunciation, all the while maintaining his witty, somewhat selfish, but ultimately likeable character.

English major senior Mallika Shaw—who played Miss Cecily Cardew—expressed that it was the physicality of her character that was challenging for her.

“It’s a very different time period; you have to always sit and stand straight, use your hands with very flowy gestures and make sure things look beautiful,” Shaw said.

Some of the actors said that this production was especially significant because many of the cast members were seniors, including musical theater and English double major Rebecca Leville, musical theater major Alexandr Lyutenskov and communication major Noah Pfeiffer.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my collegiate acting experience,” Gfeller said. “It was such a fun show to be a part of and I’ll be looking back fondly on it for a real long time.”