Deception, disguise and misadventure will take center stage at the Canby Fine Arts Center this week, as Canby High School theatre presents its production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of mistaken identity, lies, the English class system and the never-ending vanity and selfishness of high society.
There were several reasons for the student board’s selection of the 19th-century masterpiece. First, with the uncertainty surrounding school and extracurricular activities due to the ongoing Covid pandemic — not to mention the school’s position of drama adviser, which remained unfilled until recently — it was just easier (and cheaper) to select a work comfortably ensconced in the public domain.
More significantly, though, Earnest has long been a mainstay of the reading list for students in CHS’ “Brit lit” (British literature) class, and senior Brynn Spoon, who plays Cecily and also serves as treasurer for the Canby Thespians, said she has always appreciated the play’s wit and humor.
“Shows can cost a lot of money, depending on what you do, so we were looking for something affordable and fun that people would care about,” Spoon explained. “But I remember sitting in class and reading this play, and I actually read for the character that I play now, and I was like, ‘This show is so funny. I like this.'”
The comedic farce, which Wilde wrote at the height of his fame and popularity, tells the story of two bachelors who both create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives.
At the same time, they are each attempting to win the hearts of two women who, conveniently, have vowed to only fall in love with a man named Ernest. Hilarity ensues as the two get hopelessly entangled in their own deceptions and mistruths.
The production’s new adviser and director, Sullivan Mackintosh, came on board shortly before Thanksgiving break and hit the ground running — but it still made for a compressed timeline in preparing the show.
“Because of that altered timeline with our new director, we started way later than usual,” Spoon explained. “It’s been a really packed production.”
“Luckily, the show doesn’t have much on the tech side,” added senior Connor Morris, the show’s student technical director and props master. “But having such a tight schedule for designing the set, building the set, getting all the props ready, getting the costumes ready — that takes a while.
“I’m insanely impressed at how fast things have been coming together. It’s been flowing really well.”
Though it was written well over a century ago, Spoon and the other cast and crew members see a number of parallels to our current times, as well as themes that continue to ring true about people and society.
“The entire show is about the unexpected,” she said. “It’s about a guy who comes up with a lie that backfires and all the chaos that comes from that. I think that resonates a lot with everything in our lives constantly changing. But also, it’s nice sometimes to just take some breaks and laugh, and this show has a lot of that.”
Morris says the idea of wielding different personas in different arenas of life rings particularly true for many teens.
“It’s very real, you know?” he said. “Everybody has their home life and their school life and their work life. Everyone is typically quieter on their own, and we put on this front for show. You can definitely see the parallels between art and life.”
Canby High School’s The Importance of Being Earnest will debut at 7 p.m. Thursday, January 20, at the Canby Fine Arts Center. Later performances will be held at 7 p.m. January 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29, with 2 p.m. matinees on January 22 and 29.
Tickets are $10 general admission and $8 for K-12 students and available at the door. CHS students may enter free with their school ID.
Hear more from Brynn Spoon and Connor Morris in Episode 331 of the Now Hear This: Canby podcast, “Wilde Thing”:
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