“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”
Socialite Gwendolen Fairfax shares this essential piece of advice during the second half of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I found it a useful “actor clue” and delicious jumping-off place for the exploration of her character. As I begin approaching the role of Gwendolen for a second time (after recently playing the role this summer at a theater in Missouri) I’m excited to figure out how this incredibly-mannered, impeccably-groomed woman exists in a world where an army of corpses is ready to pound down the door at any given second. How will she respond to the disruption of her carefully-manicured life? And how does living in a landscape of flesh-eating, undignified undead raise the stakes of marrying one’s chosen love?
Even though I have Eric Davis’ fantastic adaptation at my disposal already, I won’t know these answers for sure until we begin rehearsals, uncover more about the world of this production, and begin the process of play. But I’m feeling ready to sink my teeth in.
After being so well-acquainted with the original text after this summer, I was delighted to read Eric’s exquisite adaptation, which I feel quite certain Mr. Wilde, were he alive today, would regard with absolute glee. The new text supports and complements the original (which is very largely intact), and I am so impressed with the way that Eric captures the voices originally created by Mr. Wilde. The sentence structure for Gwendolen’s “new” lines for instance, make me grin from ear to ear, thinking, “Well of course she would say that, in this circumstance… amazing!” I’m also excited to see how even the scenes that have only Mr. Wilde’s text in them will be affected by the new set of circumstances that this adaptation presents. And I mean, how much more tension (and hilarity!) creeps its way into a scene when the finger sandwiches might be… well, finger sandwiches?
Prior to working on this play, I must admit that I have had limited experience with zombie culture, so I’ve been doing plenty of reading and movie-watching to prepare. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and Day of the Dead have been my recent cold-blooded companions. I’ve created a Polyvore (a really cool collage-building website) of images to help me find visual inspiration for Gwendolen’s physical life, in the context of this adaptation. Lucky for me, there’s no shortage of zombie research available, and it’s so helpful to keep track of my inspirations as I work on getting the text into my body.
Another piece that struck me about Gwendolen when I first read The Importance of Being Earnest is that she is undoubtedly Lady Bracknell’s daughter. After working with the glorious Donna Donnelly in Harvey last season, I’m so excited to play together again. I look forward to exploring the many ways in which Gwendolen is a product of her cosmopolitan environment and “short-sighted” education. I think it will be a riot to see how these aristocrats (who place a high premium on good manners, protocol, appearances, class, and material posessions) negotiate this landscape of chaos. Since this is an original adaptation, I’m very much looking forward to experimenting, creating, and diving into Eric’s direction with an eager and open mind, ready for whatever is lurking around the corner.