Classic comedy takes center stage Tuesday at Redlands Theatre Festival when Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" opens for seven performances this summer in Prospect Park.
One of five shows presented in repertory in the outdoor Avice Meeker Sewall Theater, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is one of theater's best-loved works. It is directed by Tom Provenzano of San Bernardino.
This hilarious comedy of manners tells the tale of two young men who bend the truth to escape family obligations and capture the hearts of their true loves. The chaos that results from their web of deceit is full of surprises
Considered to be Wilde's most brilliant work, "The Importance of Being Earnest" takes on Victorian high society and its inherent respectability, marriage and social obligations, and turns it upside down.
First performed in February 1895 in London, "The Importance of Being Earnest" has been delighting audiences ever since with Wilde's high farce, witty dialogue and outrageous fun and surprises.
"Since being introduced to the play when I was 13 (playing the old minister Dr. Chasable), I have felt that 'The Importance of Being Earnest' was one of the few perfect plays ever written," Provenzano said.
"Though ostensibly a frivolous farce about manners in late Victorian England, Oscar Wilde's masterpiece is actually a brilliant, but stinging burlesque of both hypocritical British morality and of the overly sentimental romantic melodrama that was popular in the 1890s."
While most of the popular entertainments of that period have disappeared, Provenzano said, "'The Importance of Being Earnest' is in constant production in theaters throughout the English-speaking world and shows no sign of waning in its popularity."
There are challenges that come with directing this play, he said.
"This is a highly sophisticated, very mannered play. If played simply with fake English style it could easily turn off contemporary audiences. However, with a strong cast -- which we absolutely have - - who really know how to attack characters with extreme energy, the hilarity and brilliance will play through to modern audiences," he said.
"Of course we hope a large portion of our audiences are addicted to 'Downton Abbey.' If so, they will simply feel we are doing a parody of that great show and appreciate our efforts," he said.
Provenzano said he has been involved in several theater organization in the Inland Empire, but the Redlands Theatre Festival is "the most satisfying artistically and personally."
"There are difficulties because there is never enough rehearsal and the conditions of those rehearsals are rough. However, the caliber of both veteran and young artists is strong enough to overcome those challenges."
In addition to directing the production, Provenzano also acts in the show. He plays Lady Bracknell.
"One of the great female characters in (theater) history is Lady Bracknell, a monster of a society woman who interferes with everyone's love and pleasure. In the past several decades there has developed a tradition of the character being played by male actors," Provenzano said.
"When offered the chance I couldn't resist. Then I realized I had to direct the play with myself at the center of about half of the play. Fortunately we have a sterling cast who all jump into their extreme characters with a hilarious zeal that saves me from many of the challenges face by a director who is also in a leading role."
Provenzano is professor of theater arts at Cal State San Bernardino, specializing in acting, voice, speech, directing and children's theater. He has directed his own adaptations of "A Wrinkle in Time", "Macbeth" and "Hamlet," as well as productions of "Hay Fever," "Cabaret" and others. His production of "Resa Fantastiskt Mystiskt" was invited to the 2001 Kennedy Center/ American College Theater Festival (KCATCF).
He co-created Imagination Company, a children's theater touring schools and libraries throughout California. He wrote and directed several of the troupe's productions.
He is also a theater journalist in Southern California.
The cast also includes Pete Bennett, Richard King and Sandra Rice of Redlands; Kristine Rodriguez and Shannon Galuszka, Riverside; Tom Newman and Brenden Hampton, Yucaipa; and Eric Barnard, Glendora.
Performances of "The Importance of Being Earnest" continue July 26 and Aug. 1, 4, 10, 14 and 20.
The play is one of five shows in repertory at Prospect Park through Aug. 24. Other shows are "Hairspray," "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," "The Andrews Brothers" and "Dividing the Estate."
Single tickets are available in advance or at the door for $20. Student tickets may be purchased 15 minutes before curtain with a valid I.D. for $16. Season tickets are available for $80 for all five shows. Group tickets also are available at a discounted rate.
Tickets are available at the Redlands Theatre Festival box office in Prospect Park, at Cajon Street and Highland Avenue in Redlands, or by calling 909-792-0562. Ticket information is also available at rftseason.com.
Theatergoers may park on Cajon Street and take the free tram ride to and from the theater.
Picnicking is allowed on the festival grounds before each show.
SOURCE: Owen Sheeran, publicity coordinator for Redlands Theatre Festival
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