Everyone shines in USI Theatre’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”


Graphic by Maliah White

“The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” is USI Theatre’s first play of the 2022-2023 academic year performed Oct. 20-23.

Sydney Lawson, Lifestyle Editor

USI Theatre put on their first performance of the 2022-2023 academic year with Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” Oct. 20-23. With all of the current stress on my shoulders, I was happy to have an excuse to sit back, relax and have a few laughs. “The Importance of Being Earnest” did not disappoint.

“The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” is a comedic play set in the late 1800s. It follows orphan Jack Worthing (Michael Woywood), a man who has been going by the name “Earnest.” This is also the name Jack has given to his nonexistent brother when talking about him to his niece, Cecily Cardew (Madalyn Cottrell). Jack has fallen in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Jade Griffy), only to find that she has mostly fallen in love with him for his alias, Earnest. 

Jack makes plans to change his name to Earnest to please Gwendolen, though her mother has forbidden their engagement. They agree to sneak to Jack’s countryside home to be together. Meanwhile, Jack’s friend Algernon Moncrieff (Dakota Smith), is determined to meet Cecily and travels to the country home himself pretending to be Jack’s brother, Earnest. Algernon finds that she, too, will only marry him if his name is Earnest. 

Cecily and Gwendolen meet, unbeknownst to the men, and find out they are both engaged to “Earnest,” resulting in a hilarious spat. Eventually, the truth comes to light that both men were lying about their identities, and the girls become fast friends as they angrily bond over their fiancés’ trickery. In the end, they find that Jack’s birth name actually was Earnest all along. He was being earnest about his name being Earnest. 

Gwendolen (Jade Griffy) shares her love for the name “Earnest” with Jack (Michael Woywod). (Photo courtesy of USI Media)

I will admit, classic plays interest me far less than contemporary ones, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The plot was easy to follow, and the dry comedy still held its humor despite the age. 

I was worried I would have trouble with the thick accents and older English, but all of the actors enunciated and projected amazingly. I never struggled to make sense of what they were saying. Actor Jason Pintar in particular shocked me as his voice boomed loudly and clearly through the auditorium without sounding like he was yelling.

In previous USI Theatre productions, I found that some of the cast would stand out far more than the rest, whether it be the intrigue of their characters or the quality of their acting. This was the first show I’ve seen where practically every role shone equally, if in their own ways. Even the most monotone characters were a joy to watch due to their actors. 

This play was created in collaboration with the Actors’ Equity Association. While there were some notable differences, perhaps due to experience, the Equity cast members did not outperform the USI Theatre. They felt cohesive on stage and there was no apparent extreme barrier in talent. 

My favorite part of the play by far was the petty fight between Gwendolen and Cecily. Cottrell and Griffy brought so much personality into their characters. Cottrell’s expressions were spot on, making the scene all the more humorous. The duo’s line deliverance and cadence was on point through the whole show, never feeling flat or inappropriate for the scene.

Lady Bracknell (Laurie Dawn) attempts to convince Jack to allow his ward to marry her nephew. “The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” is one of USI Theatre’s best, well-rounded shows yet. (Photo courtesy of USI Media)

Woywood was perfect for the titular character. He acted with great emotion and his scenes of nervousness, excitement or rage never felt forced. I likewise adored the charisma and humor of Laurie Dawn, as Lady Bracknell, and Smith brought to the stage. I found myself drawn to them in any scene they were in. 

Being a theater outsider, I am impressed by the company’s professionalism. Nobody blanched when mistakes were made, and despite the long and rapid-fire nature of the dialogue, actors were able to deliver lines that sounded natural. At one point during my showing, a very loud alarm went off in the audience that startled me. The actors didn’t so much as blink, carrying on in a world of their own. 

I must also give a nod to the technical crew with their spot-on use of lighting and sound. They never missed a beat and created some hilarious moments with these elements alone. 

As far as costuming and set design goes, this show is one of my personal favorites. The setting for Act I was rich in color and pattern. My eyes were flitting all across the stage to take in the intricate details. I loved the tile flooring, which was hand-painted. In Act II, the large wall panels were rotated to create the appearance of being outdoors, reflected by a whiter lighting and the airy, coquette-like garden aesthetic. 

The aesthetics of the setting were reflected in the costuming. In the house, the apparel was dark and richer, with earthly tones and bolder colors. In the countryside setting, the costumes were pastels and tans, cohesive and perfect for a garden setting. The costumes were also highly detailed and did not look tacky or cheap. 

The stage glows red with the moody lighting at the Oct. 22 showing of “The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.” (Photo by Sydney Lawson)

“The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” is, in my opinion, one of USI Theatre’s most consistent productions yet, with outstanding performances across the board and equally captivating set and costuming design.

 Going to a USI Theatre production is a perfect reprieve if you need a couple hours to take a break from studying and have a laugh or witness a beautiful story brought to life. Don’t miss USI Theatre’s upcoming performances.