“The Importance of Being Earnest” still a relevant classic

Photo courtesy of Lara Dubin   Dale Leonheart ’19 and Martha Kent ’21 performed in Oscar Wilde’s classic play “The Importance of Being Earnest” last weekend.

Photo courtesy of Lara Dubin

Dale Leonheart ’19 and Martha Kent ’21 performed in Oscar Wilde’s classic play “The Importance of Being Earnest” last weekend.


The Department of Theatre Arts presented “The Importance of Being Earnest” last weekend with spectacular success, drawing huge audiences. A classic by Oscar Wilde, the play is a biting and witty satire of Victorian society. The story follows a young man, Jack Worthing, and his friend, Algernon Moncrieff, who lead double lives to politely avoid the tedium of their daily responsibilities. The false identities of the two young men lead to a tangled web of misunderstandings and complicated situations, which they must unravel to maintain their reputation.

Katie Pecora ’22 attended the show because it was supplementary to her Intro to the Study of Literature course, in which they are reading the play. The class is looking at reviews from when the show was initially released and examining the play through multiple critical lenses. Pecora explained that after the play’s debut, reviewers’ consensus was that, while it was entertaining, it was also “pointless because there was no meaning to it. It was just a silly story about all of these people getting mixed up, but there was no deeper meaning.”

“Back then, everyone wrote for a big overarching conclusion and to find the point of the story,” said Pecora. “But there is no point to this story, so people were a little mad about that.”

Today, Wilde remains well known for being unconventional. When asked whether or not she believed there was a moral to the play, Pecora admitted, “No, unless the point was a bad one! I mean, he [Jack] lied his whole life, and then everything worked out for him in the end.”

The show was framed by a beautiful set and 1920sinfluenced costumes and music. The actors delivered a lively and polished performance, delighting the audience with brilliant comedic timing and passionate portrayals. The audience roared with laughter at the caricatures of the bachelors, debutantes and other high society figures. Martha Kent ’21 and Dale Leonheart ’19 were particularly memorable in their lead roles as Earnest and Algernon respectively, maximizing the fraternal and competitive dynamic between their characters.

According to the show’s dramaturg, Heidi Holder, the show was set in the 1920s rather than the late 19th century when it was written to highlight the mischievous nature of the characters. Holder wrote, “At this moment, the wealthy young people of the class are even more inclined to break the rules. After a long and agonizing period of war, the younger generation — particularly its women — were off the leash.” The play’s focus on false identity reflects the popular parties of the ’20s, at which guests would wear costumes. Pecora met director of the show Noah Tuleja with her class to talk about the set design and the decision to set the play in the 1920s. She said that Tuleja “decided to set the play in the ’20s rather than when it was originally written because it would look more appealing to the audience, and the ’20s are much more interesting than the 1800s.”

The Mount Holyoke production’s set also had a special touch; it was accompanied by a curated collection of period-era clothes. Elizabeth Lowe ’19, who masterfully compiled the collection, wrote that “the clothing on display [...] does give the viewer a glimpse into the clothing that was worn in this period — a period of time that experienced some of the most dramatic changes in fashion in modern history.”

“The Importance of Being Earnest” reflects changing views on society; Wilde was commenting on the staunch rules of his community. The characters discussed the balance of being earnest and living for pleasure, and this cast and crew succeeded spectacularly in making this comedy seriously charming.