Thursday 22 March 2012

Plot synopsis of "Earnest" hard to capture in 500 words...!

The plot of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is predicated on a simple play on words that reminds me of sober advice my mother used to give us kids. “Life is a serious and earnest business !” she would proclaim when we had the collective temerity to express a preference to watch Disney ‘s Mickey Mouse Club.  This was not earnest enough, I guess. We moaned as she flipped the dial on the black-&-white t.v. to take in the proceedings of the Republican National Convention instead.
The play Earnest is a classic comedy of manners in which Wilde has great fun poking at the pretensions and hypocrisies of Victorian England’s aristocracy and gentry.  The play’s title Earnest is the spelling of the word as adjective, while the play revolves around two chaps who wish their names were Ernest instead of Jack, on the one hand, and Algernon, on the other. 
These fellows are best buddies, and both are rounders. “Playboys”, 100 years pre-Hefner.  In his straight life, however, Jack Worthing is guardian of one Cecily Cardew, granddaughter of Thomas Cardew who adopted Jack after discovering him as a foundling in an abandoned suitcase in a railway station cloakroom (thus the photo in the Arts Club publicity).  But Jack, too, adopts a child – an inner child whom he claims is a dissolute runaway “brother” named Ernest. Jack from time to time tells Cecily how he needs to leave their quiet country village of Hertfordshire, yet again, to go “rescue” Ernest from endless carousing in London. Which, posing as Ernest, Jack then proceeds to go do himself.
Not country gentry but a Londoner, Algernon also has created a fictional “other” named Bunbury.  Algernon escapes the boring rituals of high society parlour life on occasion by feigning he is off to minister to “Bunbury”, whom he claims is a failing and needy invalid. Algernon’s “ministry” actually involves playing silly bugger elsewhere in London. When visiting “Bunbury” is how Algernon meets and befriends “Ernest”, not knowing “Ernest” in his “real life” is this alleged country gentleman Jack Worthing .
Meanwhile Algernon has a cousin named Gwendolyn Fairfax whom Jack is desperately in love with and wants to propose to.  Gwendolyn is warm to Jack’s amourous advances, but when Gwendolyn’s mother Lady Bracknell discovers Jack has no idea who his birth father is, she forbids the marriage.  For her part, Gwendolyn has announced to Jack that she in any event would never marry someone not named “Ernest”.
In the early going of the play, Algernon discovers Jack’s double life, and he exploits the opportunity to hi-jack Jack’s inner child “Ernest” himself in order to woo young Cecily, whom Jack has described in delicious terms. Because coincidence being coincidence and omnipresent in comedies of manners, turns out Cecily, like Gwendolyn, declares she too would never consider marrying someone not named Ernest. 

And so off traipse both Jack and Algernon trying to get their names officially changed to “Ernest” so these too-clever-foxes can land their “prey” in the “hunt” before the dogs of circumstance and Lady Bracknell chase them off.
Suffice to say all these phony guises and fake identities nearly cause the ruin of these two friends, but in a variety of plot twists and character revelations, once again circumstance and coincidence combine for a happy and confectionary ending to this randy little romp.
At the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre until April 15th.

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