GV Theatre Program examines LGBT history with “The Importance of Being Earnest”


Courtesy / Lauren Seymour

Omari Seaberry, Staff Writer

This past weekend, the theatre program at Grand Valley State University held its final showing of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” originally written by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde in 1895.

The play is about a young man named John Worthing. In the story, he creates the fictitious character of “Earnest,” whose vile ways give John a chance to leave the country from time to time and travel to London. In London, John stays with his close friend, Algernon. In GVSU’s rendition, Oscar Wilde was also a character in the play.

The play is a societal satire that brings to light the many flaws of society back in the 1900s, some still relevant today. It’s also a commentary on the absurdity of the high class during the Victorian period. 

Diane Machin helmed the director’s seat for this production. Machin has worked with many theaters, universities and festivals throughout North America and had a lot of enthusiasm about this specific piece. As the director, she was in charge of many things like scripts and rehearsals. Machin said she had a dedicated team to help her make this story and performance possible. 

“We have a phenomenal dialect coach whose name is August Rain Stamper,” Machin said. “Oscar Wilde intended for the play to be spoken in a kind of high-brow English accent. I then have my stage management team and that is separate from my creative team like designers and things like that.”

Machin’s supporting cast made sure this play was aesthetically and visually captivating, opening the door for enjoyment and expansive thinking for the audience.

Rehearsal is always an integral aspect in show business. Without it, staying on track with the things that proceed on stage would be difficult. 

“The schedule that I generally have us on is five weeks of rehearsal, five nights a week, and three hours each and then you go and have a week of tech, then, you open,” Machin said. “Tech week is intense because it’s Sunday through open. My team and I came in on Saturday to set up queues.”

There have been other renditions of “The Importance of Being Earnest” since it’s debut, and the rights are in the public domain. Machin took a few artistic liberties with the play to further emphasize the main theme.

“I made a conscious choice and challenged myself to only change things if it served the storytelling of including Oscar Wilde,” Machin said. “It served his story and character development. There are a couple of moments, but I try not to change much from the original.”

Oscar Wilde was a controversial playwright because he identified as gay during the Victorian era. The innuendos about society from a LGBTQ point of view got him arrested and put on trial. The play was called a “striking indecency” at the time, an intense blow to Wilde’s credibility, social stature and career.

Hannah Cooke, a student performer and PR assistant for the play, said it was important to include Wilde in the play.

“There is an additional layer of the show where Oscar is really commenting on his work and he is creating it for the audience while also making nods to LGBTQIA culture at the time,” Cooke said.

Cooke is a theatre major who plans to use her degree to further her education at grad school for performance or directing. She played the role of Cecily Cardrew in the play and said it came together well due to their dedicated rehearsal schedule. 

“We were able to take these characters head on because of all of the prep work we had going into the show, which made it easier to understand and become them,” Cooke said.

The last showing of “The Importance of Being Earnest” was held April 2 at 2:00 pm at Haas Center for Performing Arts.