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The women of EARNEST ...

May 27, 2017

Perhaps you’ve heard that our production of The Importance of Being Earnest features an all-woman cast, and are wondering “What the heck?? What is Artists Rep up to now?” Is it a grand political statement, reflecting on our anti-feminist historical moment? Is it an interrogation of gender and social masks? Was it conceived as an indictment of the patriarchy?

Well, no, none of the above. The choice to cast the show with only women was driven by two things: 1) We have a lot of wonderful actresses in our company and we thought it would be great fun to see them all onstage together; and 2) there’s a long history of Earnest being performed by men – particularly Lady Bracknell, who is so frequently played by a man that it’s practically radical to cast a woman in the role – but we could find no evidence of an all-woman version, and that made us curious.

We’re curious about how these actresses will assume ‘manliness’ and does that change as they pursue the women with whom they are smitten? We’re curious whether this choice will present new perceptions about men and women. We’re curious about why men playing women is considered funny, but women playing men seems odd.

The Importance of Being Earnest is subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” Oscar Wilde wrote it in reaction to the Victorian era conviction that art and literature existed to teach self-improvement and encourage good works. To that stolid viewpoint, Earnest is a teasing comeuppance that joyfully traffics in self-absorption, bad behavior and slippery relationships. It is one of the great comedies in theatre history, one that has survived thousands of productions of all varieties, and come out unscathed. We think Oscar Wilde would support our all-female choice, after all, he’s the one who said, “I asked the question for the best reason possible, for the only reason, indeed, that excuses anyone for asking any question - simple curiosity.”

Maybe this production will illuminate some essence of masculinity, and by reflection, of femininity. Maybe it will set you thinking about gender, class, morality or the philosophical underpinnings of Western Civilization. Or maybe not. Maybe it will simply be a chance to see terrific actresses playing great comic material, a lighthearted frolic for a warm spring night. We’ll just have to see what happens, won’t we?

The Importance of Being Earnest runs through June 11.

by Luan Schooler, Artists Rep's Director of Dramaturgy & New Play Development

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