The Oscar Wilde classic and canon of comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, is bringing the throwback chuckles from the chicanery performed cads and charlatans to the Max Bell Theatre.
Playing now until Nov. 19, the production of the so-called trivial comedy is the first full-on production for the theatre company since the pandemic began.
Back are the luscious multi-scene sets and full blown costumes that audiences have come to expect from Theatre Calgary productions, all set to the timeless wit that has made Wilde quotable for more than a century.
“The play has so much life and vibrancy the the writing is so alive and funny and so it’s a lot of fun to do,” said Christopher Duthie, who is performing as Algernon Moncrieff.
The play centres around a pair of protagonists who undertake a series of comedic deceptions to avoid the burdens of being a gentlemen in Victorian England.
Duthie said he has enjoyed taking on the almost author avatar for Wilde in the production, by playing Moncrieff.
“He’s a full on hypocrite, like many other characters in this play, and kind of joyfully so,” he said.
“All of the characters are have a real love of wit, but Algernon particularly so. He seems to really relish in the kind of intellectual banter, and the game of banter.”
Performing alongside Duthie is Michael Rolfe as fellow cad John Worthington, Emily Howard as Gwendolen Fairfax, Valerie Planche as Lady Bracknell, Kathleen Faith Ballangan as Cecily Cardew, Shari Wattling as Miss Prism, Kevin Rothery as Reverend Canon Chasuble, David Sklar as Lane, and Duval Lang as Merriman.
The production was directed by Bronwyn Steinberg in her directing debut for Theatre Calgary. Sets and costumes were designed by Anton De Groot and Ralamy Kneeshaw.
“The big characters are are fun to play, and everyone in the cast is so wonderful,” said Duthie.
“Michael is such a great kind of partner in many of our scenes together—Kathleen Ballanga… is a wonderful partner, Lady Brockville, Valerie Planche, she’s a wonderful partner.
“Everyone is really, really, really fun to play with, and has so much talent and brings so much integrity to what they’re doing.”
A return of big Theatre Calgary productions
Steinberg said that there was a bit of pressure to stage a play this well known and to get it right.
“This is the first time I’ve gotten to do something this big in terms of Theatre Calgary, and also this beloved and well known… so sure there’s pressure,” Steinberg said.
“I feel extremely supported by the staff here, I’ve got a great cast, great designers, what more could I ask for? I get to just come in and play, and hopefully make a bunch of people laugh.”
The first time director with Theatre Calgary raved about the productions costumes and set design, calling them incredible.
“We’ve created something that looks like Victorian times, but also is a little bit cheeky and a little bit aware of the superficiality of the time and the satire that this play is,” Steinberg said.
She said that the Theatre Calgary performance would have some dynamic aspects regarding the pacing and scene changes that would “really bring the audience along for the ride.”
And as for whether Wilde’s jokes still land, Steinberg said that audiences during the dress rehearsal performance were tickled.
“They laughed at everything, and they got jokes I didn’t know if they would get.”
Tickets are on sale now at www.theatrecalgary.com/shows/2022-2023-the-importance-of-being-earnest.