Victorian London Hurdles Into Slapstick Romance

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“The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” by Oscar Wilde, was first performed in 1895 in London, and now 121 years later, is coming to Yelm via the Standing Room Only theatrical group, led by Director Nancy Tribush Hillman.

At its heart it is a satire, a trivialization of Victorian London’s social conventions. Hillman calls it Wilde’s “most famous play.”

“It might be 120 years old but it has not lost its glow,” she said Monday night before play practice. “It has not lost its charm and it has not lost its audience. … It is known and admired, but is not a play that everyone has seen. It is something that any modern audience will just enjoy, but not just a modern audience, but a family audience, a new audience, will all enjoy, and that’s the goal, that’s the goal we want to achieve.”

Dave Champagne, 45, of Lake Lawrence and owner of Castle Realty, is the producer of the play, and also is the character Lady Bracknell, a pivotal personality in the ensemble cast, an ultraconservative aristocrat. He’s playing a woman. Male actors playing Lady Bracknell is a long tradition in “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“I’m dressed in drag; I’ve never done that before, that’s why I’m doing it,” Champagne said, showing off a bit of high-pitched English accent reminiscent of the show “Downton Abbey.” “Despite being 120 years old, the play still has legs and it is still funny,” Champagne said.

His favorite line uttered by Lady Bracknell: “Never speak disrespectfully of society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”

Daniel Wyman, 27, Yelm, plays Jack Worthy, a landowner, a gentleman, respectable except when he is not. Wyman has been acting under Hillman’s direction since he was 13 years old. He said play practice and the upcoming nine shows can be taxing, but the payoff is worth the effort.

“I think it is shaping up to be really great,” he said. “All of our actors are excellent, and a couple that are new are great.”

The contrast found within the play as written by Wilde is magic, Wyman said.

“I think the interesting thing about this play is it has this ‘Downton Abbey’ sensibility, and on the other hand it is this slapstick romantic comedy you would not expect from the period,” he said. “There is this edge to this and a sense of humor that is incredibly satisfying and fun.”

If You Want to Go:

Standing Room Only presents Oscar Wilde’s “Importance of Being Earnest,” directed by Nancy Tribush Hillman, Feb. 26, 27, 28, and March 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, with Friday and Saturday showings at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., at The Triad Theater, 102 S.E. Yelm Ave. Tickets are on sale now: $15 advance or online, and $20 at the door, with $15 for students, seniors and military. Tickets available at Gordon’s Garden Center, Yelm Food Co-op, or call 1-856-67-STAGE, or go to www.SROtheater.org.

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