Preview | ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ at Santa Barbara City College

Clever Writing and Plot Twists Make Classic Play Timely

Ben Watkins (left) and Augustus Muller in SBCC Theatre Arts Department’s production of 'The Importance of Being Earnest,' directed by Katie Laris. | Credit: Ben Crop

Director Katie Laris was inspired to revisit the works of Oscar Wilde after reading a New York Times article about the seeming sexual fluidity of Harry Styles wearing large flower corsages on his lapels in homage to the 19th-century writer. This rediscovery of Wilde’s work led Laris to direct The Importance of Being Earnest for the SBCC Theatre Arts Department’s student showcase, running in the Jurkowitz Theatre November 9–19. This classic comedy (set, in this version, in the swinging 60s) is about deception, mistaken identity, and the benefits and pains of living a double life.

Jack Worthing (played by Ben Watkins) lives in the country with his young ward, Cecily (played by Grace Wilson). He periodically visits his brother, Ernest, in the city — only, Ernest doesn’t really exist. He is, in fact, an invented persona Jack uses as an excuse to live the wild life in London. When Jack’s two lives intersect, shenanigans abound. “The biggest challenge of this role,” says Watkins, “is really trying to take into account Oscar Wilde’s personal life and how that influences the text…In the play, Ernest has two names and a double life, and I think that’s very parallel to Oscar Wilde’s life trying to hide his sexuality.”

Though this play was written in the late 1800s, Laris calls The Importance of Being Earnest “cutting edge,” with verbal twists and turns that exemplify the clever writing the play is known for. Laris’ goal in bringing this timeless text to SBCC’s dramatic arts students was to make the process “fun and energetic and playful, and to have a robust imagination about every bit of innuendo and subtext.”Wilson calls SBCC’s production playful, charismatic, and colorful: “It has a very special kind of witty, somewhat satirical humor that is a unique kind of comedy.”  

From left: Sydney Davidson, Grace Wilson and Augustus Muller in SBCC Theatre Arts Department’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Katie Laris. | Credit: Ben Crop

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