As Co-Stage Manager for Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play”, I was able to work closely with the director and hear what made him decide particular elements. Dorin McIntosh as director, at the beginning of rehearsals, focused on the character development for each actor. He would sit down with the actors and ask them a series of questions. These would relate to background, daily life, relationships with the other characters involved in the show. This would be a fantastic way of bringing the characters to life for Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Since both derive from comedic roots, these two are will be a precise match to review.
McIntosh stayed focused on everything coming from an organic structure. He did not want there to be anything that stemmed from an un-natural place. I would agree with this viewpoint. I prefer when there is a natural essence in a show. This is a feeling I would want to achieve with directing a show. “The Importance of Being Earnest” would be an appropriate play to delve into due to the realistic characters and situations that are proposed in the subject matter. Though it is considered a farce, the characters need to be grounded or else audience members can find what is happening to not appear genuine. There has to be a level of what the characters want that can relate to the patrons, but then the way they go about situations can heighten the comedic elements. As director, I would want to enhance those moments of comedy without going over board. You never want your actors to force a laugh from the audience because then it seems that they are trying too hard. If they use their characters reality- including their wants and needs -this brings out the realism within their actions; no matter how over the top these actions may be.
There is a theatre in New York called Studio 54 that has a classic elegance. As soon as you walk into the theatre you see the chandelier that hangs in the lobby and the detailed work done on the ceiling. Inside the theatre is even more beautiful. I believe it would speak to the class structure built into the play and elevate the set. The proscenium stage would be appropriate for the time period that the show would be placed and allows to make scene changes between the acts easier to hide with the use of a curtain. The set for Act One is in Algernon’s flat so using colours that one would see in a bachelor’s flat during the 1800s. These would probably include dark wood for furniture, possibly a dark green on the walls, and then lighter tones for accents. In the stage directions it tells us that this flat is “luxuriously and artistically furnished” which helps direct where I would want to go with my staging. Act Two is based in the garden just outside of the manor so the idea would be to have a white gazebo in summer time. This would be reflected in the flowers with bright and vibrant colours. I would include the path that is in the stage directions in the same grey colour scheme, but have it going from the gazebo to the manor. The gazebo would be more upstage right so it is not the focal point of the scene, but can be used throughout the blocking. Then there would the basket chairs and the table that is indicated in the stage directions; these would be placed downstage left, closer to the manor and in front of the pathway. For Act Three is inside the manor in the morning room. The stage directions mentions that there is a window which I would put on the stage right wall (on an angle so the audience can see that it is looking out onto the garden from the previous act.) I would include a bench at the window for the use of blocking the actors. The colour scheme would be light in this act and some natural light would be coming through the window. Like Act One, the furnishings would be intricate and beautiful. On the stage left wall I would have a set of double doors to indicate the main entrance and exit for the actors to work with. On the centre wall panel (more stage right) there would be a smaller door for another way to get in and out.
The comedy within the text is used to escape the restrictions of the class system in that particular time period. This allowed the audience of the time to enjoy the satire while having it relate to them. Utilizing the characters, the text could still be used to relate to audience members in modern times. Casting would have to play on the actors reality they can create for their characters. For the main actors within the show, these are what I would choose for each character. Ernest/Jack would be someone around late 20s to 30, I would want the actor to play him with an innocence so it doesn’t look like he’s aiming to get himself into trouble. Algernon would be mid 20s and extremely charming with a somewhat mischevious side. Gwendolen would be around Ernest’s age and played with a more responsible, elegant air. Cecily would be around 20 and extremely innocent. She should have a youthful naivety and adventurous side. Lady Bracknell would be late 40s to mid 50s and over the top in personality and in her reactions. She would think herself to have high status and deserves the respect that comes along with that class. Costumes, makeup, and hair should be appropriate for each character due to their ages, season of the year, and time of the play. I would include the fashion forward hats and dresses (at least for Gwendolen and Cecily) of the time for the ladies, possibly a bit more outlandish for Lady Bracknell, and the men would be in suits.
Working on Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play” helped me to see that comedy through reality would be beneficial for directing choices of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”