Mask & Mirror Community Theatre takes on Importance of Being Earnest

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JENNY CONLEE - Margie Young as Cecily, talks to Casey Faubion as Algernon is Mask and Mirror Community Theatres production of The Importance of Being Earnest. The play is in its last week of performances at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Tigard.It’s not too late to catch the show before it’s gone.

Tigard and Tualatin’s Mask & Mirror Community Theatre is in the midst of performing its own version of “The Importance of Being Earnest” the famous comedy by playwright Oscar Wilde.

The production is in its final week at Mask & Mirror's version , with three performances set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Like everything Mask & Mirror does, this production comes with a bit of a twist on the classic tale.

Instead of Victorian England, where the original play was produced, Mask & Mirror's version “The Importance of Being Earnest, a Trivial Comedy Set in the Serious South” takes place at the end of the Civil War in Atlanta, Ga.

It’s a change of scenery, said director Mason Hall, but it remains the same classic tale.

“The parallels were so great I thought ‘this might just work,’” said Hall, who helped co-found Mask & Mirror two years ago.

One of Wilde's most popular plays, “Earnest” is a story of mistaken identity. Two aristocratic men use a false name to get out of their social obligations, only to fall in love with women unaware of their past lives — until they come back to disrupt everything.

Hall first thought of transplanting “Earnest” to the South a few years ago, he said.

Hall was directing another stage show set in Texas when he and his wife watched a film version of “Earnest.”

“In my brain, I had all these Southern accents and manners from my other production,” Hall said. “It was on my mind, and I realized, ‘You know, these airs they are putting on are so similar to what I see in the South.’ And as I thought more about it, I saw the same social forces at work.”

Across an ocean, England and the American South were experiencing similar situations at the end of the 1890s, Hall said.

“Things were changing socially,” he said. Both regions were witnessing the consequences of economic industrialization, the breakdown of social classes, the formation of organized labor and the battle for women’s suffrage.

“After the Civil War, people were losing a lot of their class status — not to mention their slaves and wealth,” Hall said.

Hall considers himself a “purist” when it comes to theater. When he first started talking about moving the setting of the play to America, he had some pushback.

“'Why would you want to change the setting? That’s Oscar Wilde.’ one person asked,” Hall said.

But Wilde’s story could fit perfectly in several different eras, Hall said.

“This is literature. It’s a classic for a reason,” Hall said. “It goes beyond time and culture. It works no matter what age or time or place you live in.

“I haven’t changed anything except the references to England. It’s still Oscar Wilde — pure and simple.”

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