My second-favorite play is the only real play I’ve ever played anyone in: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I am forever in debt to my high school senior English teacher, Miss Penner, for having us read both Earnest and Hamlet, my favorite play.
But reading Earnest wasn’t enough; she wanted us to perform it; and that, as it turned out, in Shakespearean style, since we had more males in the class than there were male characters available in the play. I still remember pretty well some of my lines as Miss Prism in Act 1. (“Cecily! Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton’s duty than yours. Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you.”)
The last time I checked, an oldish movie was still streaming at Netflix. It is very good, especially in its portrayal of Lady Bracknell. Yet I still cherish most my memory of Kevin’s Lady Bracknell saying “I am glad to hear it,” the it she has heard being the fact that Jack smokes.
Jack tries to snatch his private cigarette case from Algernon.
So what is the point of Earnest? Do we learn anything important from it?
As far as I know, there is only one really important truth illustrated in The Importance of Being Earnest, and it is this: We humans are capable of being very, very, very ridiculous.
Being ridiculous is not the same thing as simply being silly. Larry the Cucumber is silly, and we love him for it. Algernon Montcrieff is ridiculous, and we love watching him be it, but we do not admire it.
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