Oscar Wilde coined the verb “to bunbury” — to keep up two alternate personas in the city and in the country — in his 1894 masterpiece “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which will be performed by Ten Bucks Theatre this weekend and next at the Grand Theatre in Ellsworth.
Bunburying is the maneuver that John, aka Ernest, has to pull off: being the serious and forthright John at his country house, and the libertine Ernest in the city. His friend Algy has a similar problem, in that he pretends to have an invalid friend named Bunbury that lives in the country, that he can go visit whenever he wants to avoid certain people. All this, to impress two girls for two very different reasons.
It’s this deception, and the ensuing hilarity, that gives the play its delightfully madcap, deliciously wordy zing — just the Wilde-ian essence that Ten Bucks director Ben Layman relishes and finds still relevant in the 21st century.
“It’s like Shakespeare, in that it takes these ridiculous situations and elevates them using this amazingly beautiful language,” Layman said. “And it’s just screamingly funny. It’s still funny. This play is all about the nature of romance, and really, how much has changed over the years?”
Ten Bucks floated the idea of doing a production of “Earnest” a few years ago. Layman is a huge fan of the play, and said he always wanted the chance to direct it. But with a larger cast (10 actors, in all), it would be a tough production to stage at Ten Bucks’ intimate home stage at Comins Hall in Eddington. That’s where the larger capacity The Grand theatre came in — the Ellsworth facility hosted a staged reading of “Earnest” back in November that was a test run to see if there was an audience for a full show.
“It definitely was a success, and we knew we already had some excellent talent to work with, so we went ahead and decided to have our spring show be ‘Earnest’ at the Grand,” said Layman. “The Grand is trying to start having live theater again, and this collaboration is definitely a step in that direction.”
The roles of Algy and John-Ernest are played by Nathan Roach and Greg Mihalik, respectively, with their love interests, Gwendolyn and Cecily, played by area theater newcomers Amelia Foreman-Stiles and Angelina Nichols. Lady Bracknell — surely an original inspiration for the Dowager Countess from “Downton Abbey” — is played by Julie Lisnet. The deconstructed Victorian style set was designed by Chez Cherry and costumes were handmade by Rebecca Wright.
“It’s billed as a trivial comedy for serious people,” Layman said. “I think that really means it’s a thinking person’s comedy. It’s intelligent, and it’s entertaining.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest” will be performed at The Grand in Ellsworth at 7:30 p.m. May 10-12 and May 17-19, with a 2 p.m. matinee May 20. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for children under 12. To reserve tickets, call 667-9500.