Director Carol Dunne notes that The Importance of Being Earnest represents the excess and emphasis on style over substance characteristic of the aesthetic movement. Each of the characters represents a self-centered path, from Algernon's voracious appetite for life (and cucumber sandwiches) to Lady Bracknell's self-righteousness and the Rev. Chasuble's ill-disguised lust for Miss Prism.
The cast features a mix of Northern Stage veterans and newcomers. In addition to Catherine Doherty, returning actors include Alexis Hyatt as Gwendolen Fairfax, who previously appeared here in Amadeus, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and M. Butterfly. Other returnees include Shu-nan Chu (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Romeo and Juliet, Born Yesterday, Peter Pan), Kasey Brown and John Reshetar (from Born Yesterday), and M. Carl Kaufman (making his record-breaking 13th appearance). New to Northern Stage are Brough Hansen and Matthew Cohn as Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, respectively; both are Dartmouth College graduates and professional actors with credits at theaters such as Manhattan Repertory Theatre, National Black Theatre of Harlem, Elm Shakespeare Company, Trinity Rep and Commonwealth Shakespeare. Local audiences may remember Hansen from appearances in Dartmouth productions such as The Imaginary Invalid and The Underpants; Cohn has performed at the New London Barn Playhouse in plays such as Picasso at the Lapin Agile, I Hate Hamlet and Almost, Maine. Rounding out the cast is Dartmouth senior Talene Monahon, who has appeared in Dartmouth productions of Hairspray and The Rocky Horror Show.
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born October 16, 1854, his mother's second child and his father's fifth (as he had fathered-and duly supported--three children before his marriage). His father was a noted physician and ear and eye surgeon and champion of free medical care for the poor who was later knighted for his pioneering collection of medical statistics. His mother was a gifted linguist and Irish nationalist who also wrote revolutionary poems under the pseudonym "Speranza." Oscar studied at the Portora Royal School, where he took prizes in the classics and drawing and ultimately won a scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin. He placed first in examinations there and picked up a scholarship to Magdalen College at Oxford, where he continued to excel, winning the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna".
Following publication of a book of poems, Wilde toured the United States, lecturing on aesthetics, a growing movement that insisted that art-whether it is literature, painting or architecture-should be appreciated purely for its inherent beauty and not for any moral or ideological component. The four-month tour was extended to over a year because of its popularity. His first two plays-Vera and The Duchess of Padua-were forgettable (and largely forgotten) melodramas. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd; they had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. Meanwhile, he had established a reputation as a critic and journalist and was named editor of The Lady's World, a magazine that he renamed The Woman's World. Despite the improvements he made to the publication, sales (and Wilde's interest) flagged; by 1890, and the publication of short fiction, including The Picture of Dorian Gray (later expanded into book form), he was gone.
His best-known stage works followed, beginning with Salomé (written in French, banned in England for its biblical references, and not staged until 1896 in Paris), followed by the comedy Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1894) and his final play, The Importance of Being Earnest. Meanwhile, he had established an affair with Lord AlFred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, and was introduced to a variety of male prostitutes; Queensbury was none too pleased and accused Wilde of sodomy. Wilde insisted on prosecution of the Marquess by Wilde for defamation, but according to the laws of the day, Queensbury's allegation was true, and the suit was dropped. The ordeal led to the ultimate arrest of Wilde for "gross indecency with males" for his homosexual behavior. In 1895, Wilde was sentenced to the maximum, two years of hard labor, a sentence the judge pronounced as "totally inadequate for a case such as this." His playwriting career was over, and none of his plays were staged again until after his death. His wife moved to Italy and changed her name; Wilde was not allowed to see his sons.
During this time he wrote his piece De Profundis, a 50,000-word letter intended for Douglas that discussed his spiritual journey throughout his trial. When he was released, Wilde moved to France and never returned to Ireland or the United Kingdom. He wrote his last work in 1898, The Ballad or Reading Gaol, a long poem commemorating his time spent in prison. He died in 1900 of cerebral meningitis.
Carol Dunne, Senior Lecturer of Theater at Dartmouth College and Producing Artistic Director of the New London Barn Playhouse, makes her debut as a director at Northern Stage, after appearing her on stage in Private Lives, Lend Me a Tenor, Dancing at Lughnasa, Cats and Midlife, the Crisis Musical! Dunne has led the Barn to a new era of artistic success and financial stability as a not-for-profit Equity theater dedicated to training emerging artists. At the Barn, Carol has directed Hair (Owl Award, Best Edgy Theater) A Funny Thing...Forum, The Pirates of Penzance (9 NH Theater Awards), The Producers, I Hate Hamlet and A Grand Night for Singing. At Dartmouth College, she has won a Distinguished Lecturer Award and directed Angels in America, Hairspray, The Rocky Horror Show and Hair and Eurydice and served as Musical Director and Choreographer of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Acting at New London Barn includes The Man Who Came to Dinner and Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Carol acted and directed at the Cleveland Play House for 10 years and served as Interim Director of Musical Theater at Baldwin-Wallace College. Princeton University (Page Theater Prize), MFA: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She resides in Etna, NH with husband Peter Hackett and children Ellie and Jamie.
Northern Stage now stands as one of the most prestigious and fastest-growing regional theaters in New England. Northern Stage has offered over 100 productions, including World Premieres such as The Shrew Tamer, Ovid: Tales of Myth & Magic and A Christmas Carol: The Musical. Other highlights include a staged reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Patrick Stewart and Lisa Harrow and a reading of Resurrection Blues, with the playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller, in attendance. The company has been honored with Moss Hart Awards for Excellence in Theater from the New England Theatre Conference five times, for productions of To Kill A Mockingbird (1999), All My Sons (2004), LES MISERABLES (2008), Hamlet (2009) and Amadeus (2010), as well as an Addison Award for The Shrew Tamer (2004) and 2010 Owl Awards for Best Actress and Best Musical and 2011 awards for Best Comedy Theater and Best Artistic Director.
Community support has enabled the company to sell over 30,000 tickets in downtown White River Junction in the last year to enjoy entertaining and thought-provoking professional theater and theater education here at the crossroads of northern New England. They have also reached out to offer residencies and workshops at over a dozen area schools; initiated "Project Playwright," a literacy program for fifth and sixth graders; and conducted a statewide literacy program, The Big Read, under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts.