It’s hard to believe it was only a little over a month ago that I was sitting in the Sherburne-Earlville auditorium watching their musical, “She Loves Me.” I raved in this space about the students’ bravura performances, the result of what I assumed to be months of preparation and rehearsals ... and last night, like five weeks later, I found myself in pretty much the same seat, watching pretty much the same kids, pull off another amazing show.
And not just any show ... an Oscar Wilde play. Oscar Wilde, as in the brilliant, Victorian-era playwright known for his dry sense of humor and deliciously complex dialogue ... and these S-E kids learned it seemingly overnight! For any high school drama club to attempt Oscar Wilde ... well let’s just say I’m more than a little ashamed my senior drama club effort at Oxford Academy was “Cinderella Wore Combat Boots.”
At S-E this weekend, it’s Wilde’s classic farce, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” It’s the tale of two n’er-do-well aristocrats, Algernon Moncrief (Adrian Enscoe) and Jack Worthing (Joe Mettler), who avoid mundane social responsibilities by concocting imaging friends or relatives who require their frequent, and out of town, attention. When Algy discovers that Jack’s been posing as his fictitious miscreant brother Ernest, he assumes the identity himself in order to garner the affections of Jack’s young ward, Cecily Cardew (Stephanie Joyce). Meanwhile, Jack’s been using Ernest’s faux identity to woo socialite Gwendolyn Fairfax (Ellen Fagan), whose mother Lady Bracknell (Alison Bensley) greatly disapproves of the union. Hilarity ensues when both Cecily and Gwendolyn wind up engaged to different “Ernests.”
It’s a classic drawing room farce, complete with mistaken/assumed identities and tons of witty repartee. The fact that these high school thesps can keep up with the mile-a-minute dialogue, let alone make its comedic brilliance shine, is a testament to their linguistic and theatrical skills. No such skills were involved in producing “Cinderella Wore Combat Boots,” I assure you. Once again, props to director Colleen Law-Tefft, who defies convention and pushes her young thesps with challenging material.
Enscoe and Mettler carry much of the show, and do so with apparent ease. Their chemistry both together and with romantic partners Joyce and Fagan is undeniable and a joy to watch. Too bad it’ll be for the last time.
For all its plot intricacies and engaging dialogue, “The Importance of Being Earnest” left me feeling a bit melancholy at the end. Not anything to do with the production itself, but more for the fact that it would be the last time we’ll see seniors Enscoe, Mettler, Bensley and Fagan (and fellow cast members Paul Weinell and Jake vonMechow) on the S-E stage. I hesitate to foist a sports analogy on this group, but the retirement of the drama club’s starting lineup is sure to be felt on the field next year. I’m sure Colleen’s been grooming the second string to replace these stellar performers – Tyler Rundell, Ethan Cameron, Bekah Riley and Kaitlyn Briggs among them – but I’ll certainly miss seeing their truly gifted performances. I’ve no doubt they’ll go on to bigger and better things, stagewise. Just don’t forget where you came from, kids!
“The Importance of Being Ernest” is being performed tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the S-E auditorium. Tickets will be available at the door.