The winter production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest opens tonight at 7 p.m. Director Melanie Ankney has reveled in the experience of learning with the actors and producing a play to be proud of.
“The rehearsals have been wonderful,” Ankney said. “It’s nice to start a product and finish it. I love working one-on-one with the actors. It’s been fun getting to know a group of students I didn’t know at the beginning of the year.”
The Importance of Being Earnest follows bachelor John Worthing’s, as he attempts to capture the heart of young Gwendolen Fairfax, who will only wed a man named Earnest. Worthing’s best friend and Fairfax’s cousin, Algernon Moncrieff, refuses to give him consent to marry her unless he explains a peculiar inscription engraved on his cigarette case, forcing Jack to reveal his mysterious double-life. The play is traditionally set in England in the late 1800s. However, Ankney has adapted the production to fit her own style.
“It’s going to take place in early 60s London, and the script lends itself easily to that,” Ankney said. “We only changed a couple of words in the script. The play is so much about surfaces, and I think dealing with kind of a plastic -mod- 60s kind of feel supports that. I also feel that it makes it a little more accessible.”
The Importance of Being Earnest presents a new opportunity for the cast. Many of the actors will be performing speaking roles for the first time, and others are new to the stage entirely. Sophomore Olivia Fresa will play Cecilly Cardow, her first leading role.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be cast,” Fresa said. “My character is kind of naïve and a little bit innocent, and I can pull it off because she’s kind of like me. She thinks she’s been engaged to Algernon for months when it was just misunderstanding. She’s kind of ditsy and funny.
Sophomore Annalise Sears was overwhelmed when she found out she had been cast.
“I ran down my driveway screaming,” Sears said. “It just felt amazing. I was honored and very excited. My character is an old lady, so to get into character I think of old lady things, like crochet and cats.”
Junior Daneel Patel, who plays Algernon Moncrieff, landed his first lead role and the role he aspired to since the beginning of the audition process.
“When I got my role I literally started dancing,” Patel said. Algernon is a giant flirt. A good thing about Algernon is that a lot of him is me already, so although I do get to act, I also get to show a little of myself onstage.” The cast has been rehearsing several days a week since late October, working to overcome the obstacles that come with putting together a production.
“The biggest challenges I’ve faced have been scheduling conflicts, whether it’s scheduling the auditorium, scheduling rehearsal time, or coordinating with Shakespeare Troupe and the One Acts,” Ankney said. “When students have so many opportunities, you don’t want to make them choose just one thing, so that’s been a challenge for me.”
Senior Thomas Hooker, who plays John Worthing, finds challenges both in adapting to his character and mastering the script.
“I have to learn the dialect, and that’s definitely a pain in the butt,” Hooker said. “Also, there are a lot of lines to memorize, but I guess that comes with any play. I just look at the lines over and over again until they stick.”
The Importance of Being Earnest is Ankney’s first solo production with FHS, taking over the mantle of director from 11-year theater veteran Kevin Mettinger. Mettinger turned over his final spring musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, to Ankney mid-production.
“I think my approach to directing is very different than Mr. Mettinger’s was,” Ankney said. “My education was in performance, as opposed to Kevin’s, which was in direction itself. He had a lot of insights as a director that I’m still learning about, but as a performer I feel like I can probably relate to and develop the acting in a different way. I think my vision in theater is not as focused on spectacle as Mr. Mettinger’s, and some people will like that and some people won’t. The set will be interesting, but it’s not going to fill in every detail for you.”
As opening night approaches, nerves build among the cast.
“I’m nervous about having enough time to do what we need to do, about being ready,” Ankney said. “But 80 percent of the director’s job is in casting, and I feel like this is the right cast and that, no matter what, it’s going to be a great show.”
Performances will be held January 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 7 p.m., and January 13 and 20 at 2 p.m.