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Director Katie Laris takes a colorful modern approach to a classic play

Ben Crop
Ben Watkins, Sydney Davidson, Grace Wilson and Augustus Muller in SBCC Theatre Arts Department’s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, directed by Katie Laris, November 9-19, 2022, Jurkowitz Theatre, SBCC West Campus, 900 block of Cliff Dr.

The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College will be performing Oscar Wilde’s 1895 hallmark comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest” from Nov. 9-19 in the Jurkowitz Theatre. 

The play’s three acts follow the story of Jack Worthing (Ben Watkins), an affluent young man of unknown ancestry adopted into wealth. To escape the boredom of country life, Worthing pretends to have a brother in London named “Ernest”, who he periodically goes to visit. While in London, Worthing leads a double life under the guise of his fictitious brother.

“It’s about finding a sense of identity, and being comfortable with the identity you choose; having that ability to define that and relax into it,” Director Katie Laris said. “And along the way, there’s a lot of looking for love too.”

Inspired by the aesthetic of pop artist and high fashion icon Harry Styles, Laris set the play in the 1960s rather than the late 19th-century Victorian period in which it was written. Laris said she wanted to serve a modern, stylized approach to the play, while staying away from contemporary elements of society such as cell phones.

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“The colors are vibrant and the costumes are unique. It adds a fun twist that I haven’t seen for this play,” 19-year-old theater major Sydney Davidson said. Davidson will be making her debut theater performance playing Algernon’s cousin and Jack’s love interest Gwendolen. 

“I hope our audience leaves feeling like they want to see it again,” Davidson said. 

Wilde, a public icon at the time, wrote the script to mock late Victorian society and the institutions it upheld, such as marriage. Regarding his own work he is famously quoted saying “We should treat all trivial things in life very seriously, and all serious things of life with a sincere and studied triviality.”

Months after the plays release, and at the height of his career, Wilde was exposed by a lovers father for being homosexual. Laris notes that the play has many homosexual undertones, and notes that the word “earnest” could be an innuendo for “gay.” Wilde was subsequently arrested and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison.

City College student Augustus Muller plays Worthing’s best friend and confidant Algernon Moncrieff. Muller said the play is “a twisted, confusing love story” chock full of witty one liners; his favorite being  “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”

Laris said she hopes that attendees “enjoy the sheer cleverness of the dialogue and they luxuriate in the ability of characters to work with words.”

The Jurkowitz Theatre’s small size provides the audience with an intimate experience, but limited seating. Tickets range from $10-$18 and can be purchased through The Theatre Groups website.


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