By Drew Luther
The American Shakespeare Center performed Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” in Olin Theater at Roanoke College on Jan. 20. There were 9 cast members along with two musicians.
The troupe strictly uses the same staging conditions as Shakespeare. According to its website “The American Shakespeare Center recovers the joys and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education.”
Using Shakespearian techniques, the lights in the theater left on, so that the audience and actors can see each other, and also having the audience on three sides of the stage rather than just one. Members of the audience were invited by the troupe to sit in chairs set up on either side of the stage. This allowed the actors to easily see the reactions of the audience and make the show more personal for each audience member.
“importance” tells the story of two bachelors in England. John Worthing uses the persona of his nonexistent brother Earnest to come to town and Algernon Moncrieff uses the excuse of a made-up invalid to skip social events and visit the country. They end up both acting as if they are Earnest, and have to deal with the fallout from their deception.
Consistently throughout the performance the audience chuckled along as the characters interacted with each other. Exchanges were filled with irony, jokes, and passion. The actors were very convincing, and even without microphones the audience could hear them clearly. There were several intermissions during the play and the cast and musicians played original music that either was specific to the situations in the play or targeted towards the college students in the audience. The instruments used included a harmonica, xylophone, guitar, drums, double bass, and more.
The American Shakespeare Center group that performed at Roanoke are part of the Center’s national tour and perform a rotating set of three plays. Each actor also can play multiple parts in a single play. be sure to check their website for more information.