Feb. 23, 1998


LAWRENCE -- Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners "The Importance of Being Earnest" will be staged by the University Theatre at the University of Kansas Feb. 27 to March 1 and March 5 to 7 in the Crafton Preyer Theatre, Murphy Hall. Performances are at 8 p.m. nightly except for a 2:30 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 1.

Originally subtitled "A trivial comedy for serious people," the play was written as a commentary on the artificial manners, morals and customs of British high society.

The Dublin-born Wilde wrote the witty and intelligent play for premieres in London and New York City in 1895. More than 100 years later, it is still one of the most popular productions in the theatre genre because of its bright and cynical dialogue and daffy and off-center characters.

The KU production is being staged by guest director Francis J. Cullinan, a KU theatre alumnus and longtime professor of theatre at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Scenic and costume designer is Dennis P. Christilles, assistant professor of theatre and film. Lighting designer is Margaret Gilmore, Lawrence senior. Paul Meier, associate professor of theatre and film, is dialect and diction coach for the cast.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" deals with Jack, a rich and idle country dweller, who invents a city brother, Earnest, so he will have an excuse to go to London when he gets bored with country life. Jack's fiancee, who knows him only as Earnest, declares that it is his name -- as well as himself -- she is in love with and that she could not marry him if he had a different name.

Jack's friend, Algernon, also has invented a nonexistent friend whose ill health requires his visits whenever he wants to escape boring invitations. On one of his many visits to the ailing friend, Algernon also impersonates Earnest and meets a young woman who has also longed to know a man named Earnest.

Soon both young women think they are engaged to the same man and both men are trying to get themselves rechristened to succeed in their romances.

Cullinan, who has directed five previous productions of "The Importance of Being Earnest," said the play's characters are all disdainful of anything serious or earnest.

"These people live life forcibly, as if playing an aggressive game," he said. "Their conversations are full of witticisms and brittle talk."

Designer Christilles said the KU production is not set strictly in Victorian times but with a more avant garde look as with the Arts and Crafts movement of Charles Renie Mackintosh.

"This is a world that is beautiful and fragile," Christilles said. "The people in the play exist in a perfect world during a perfect English summer." To symbolize this fragile world, Christilles has incorporated a delicate stained-glass motif into his setting. His costumes are elaborate and elegant as befits the upper crust characters in the play.

Cullinan retired from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1994 to devote more time to his professional directing career. He spent much of the fall of 1997 as a visiting professor in the School of Music at Boston University. He has directed more than 60 plays, operas and musical comedies. Recently he staged "Simply Cole Porter" for the Perry Street Theatre in New York. He also directed the U.S. premiere of "Going Down to Marrakesh" by Alonso de Santos.

Since receiving his master's degree in dramatic literature from KU in 1962, Cullinan has directed at such theatres as the Boston Shakespeare Festival, Creede Repertory Theatre, Missouri Repertory Theatre, American Heartland Theatre and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Reserved seat tickets for the University Theatre production are now on sale in the KU box offices at the Lied Center, 864-ARTS; Murphy Hall, 864-3982; and Student Union Activities, Kansas Union, 864-3477. Tickets are $12 for the public, $6 for all students and $11 for senior citizens. VISA and MasterCard are accepted for telephone orders.

Members of the cast for the KU production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" include (listed by name, class, parents' names, home address, and role)

From Hoisington
Kari Wahlgren, junior, daughter of David and Lonnie Wahlgren, 261 W. Fourth; Gwendolyn Fairfax

From Lenexa
Timothy Hansen, sophomore, son of Eric and Lana Hansen, 13132 W. 84th; Merriman
From Olathe
Jared Hamilton, sophomore, son of Robert and Jan Hamilton, 217 Brittany Drive; Rev. Canon Chasuable
From Overland Park
Andrea J. Acosta, junior, daughter of Janet and Jess Acosta, 11110 W. 99th Place; Lady Bracknell
Jason D. Holland, senior, son of Jack and Roxanne Holland, 14006 Goodman; Jack Worthing
Alan A. Rose, junior, son of Fred and Mary Ellen Rose, 7303 W. 101st; Algernon Moncrief
Jonny Wainscott, junior, son of Gary and Cindy Wainscott, 9809 Craig; Lane
From Stilwell
Kari Jackson, sophomore, daughter of Michael Jackson, 16036 Meadow Lane; Miss Prism
Lauren Stanford, junior, daughter of Chuck and Mary Stanford, 7209 Black Bob Drive; Cecily


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