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September 10, 2018

Asbury University’s production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” exceeded expectations before the show even began. Director Sarah Cole ’20 gave new life to the already vibrant show by playing it in the round, giving the audience a front row seat to the rip-roaring comedy.

The show starred Pete Manchester ’20 (Jack), Daniel Moye ’20 (Algernon), Allison McBride ’20 (Cecily) and Morgan LeBeau ’21 (Gwendolen). The respective duo scenes of whom had the audience in tears with laugher. Leah Hampton ’20 (Miss Prism), Chad Carmack ’20 (Rev. Chausble), and Caleb Dennis ’20 (Lane) accentuated the action with witty humor at all the right moments. Completing the cast was Catherine Haws ’20 (Lady Bracknell), who dominated each scene with an energy and comedy that prompted laugher with her every action.

The cast rehearsed as a group for only two weeks and put on a show that embodied pure professionalism. By playing the show in the round, Cole tackled the challenge of blocking in the most difficult stage layout, and she utilized it well.

Such remarkable theater, though exceptional, is no exception when it comes to the quality productions of Asbury’s theatre program. The University promotes entirely student directed, produced and managed works which take in students from all majors.

Cast members from the show have credited the experience with teaching them valuable skills regarding not only the stage but life as well. Other actors expressed that the short timetable with which the play was rehearsed promoted a mix of improvisation and efficiency during the process.

 “I had to learn to distill the process down to determine what production elements were necessary and what to let go in the production,” said Cole.

The play moved at a rapid-fire pace, with each actor given ample opportunity to take the spotlight and leave a lasting impression on the scene, which they utilized to the fullest potential.

The story follows Jack, a well-to-do aristocrat who leads a double life. When around other members of the upper class, he lives as “Ernest,” and when in the country, he lives as “Jack.” This sophisticated duality is turned on its head by professions of love and the scheming of friends. The piece serves not only as Oscar Wilde’s biting commentary on upper-class behaviors, but also as a still-relevant warning of the dangers of leading a double life.

 “The characters are in a boxing ring, essentially,” explained Cole. And in this theatrical boxing ring unfolded a battle of wits, principles and Victorian dignity that simultaneously had the audience laughing their heads off and on the edge of their seats to see how this comedy of errors would be resolved.

The emphasis on entirely student-led productions is relatively new for Asbury’s Theatre & Cinema Performance program. “We’re just testing the waters,” remarked Cole.

Testing the waters though it may be, the show from all accounts was not only a theatrical success in its own right, but also a bold next step for Asbury’s already esteemed theatre program. The University is always seeking out new ways to promote student growth in, not just performance areas, but in technical skills as well.

Appearing next from Asbury’s Theatre & Cinema Performance program is a production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” running Oct. 11-13.

Following that is the musical comedy of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” showing Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 15-17.

Several other shows are also in the works, with auditions in progress for Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of “C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” This will be another full student production, directed by Joshua Pelletier ’19.

It is difficult not to get excited for the future of Asbury’s theatre program, particularly the student productions, as Cole’s rendition of “The Importance of Being Earnest” kicked off the semester with such vigor and mirth that no one left without a smile on their face. It will be delightful to see just what comes next to The Greathouse Theatre.

Learn more about Asbury University’s Theatre & Cinema Performance major.

– by Cooper Boss ’21