By Carley Stavis
An abundance of roses carefully placed along stage steps. Purple flowery vines of wisteria dripping from the façade of a brick house. Lace draperies cascading from ceiling to floor.
Cabrillo College’s spring production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” might give the impression of a maudlin fairytale-like love story. Don’t be fooled.
This version of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play, directed by Gail Rich Award winner Joseph Ribeiro, fits much more squarely into the category of social commentary via comedy rather than fairytale.
In his heavy British accent, and with an almost fatherly twinkle in his eye, Ribeiro explained his choice of this old, yet unconventional play.
“We all know it. Shit happens,” he said. “Everyone is aware of what’s going on in the world. So [when I chose this play] I thought, ‘Let’s have a good laugh, for God’s sake.’”
The show promises to deliver amusing repartee and finely crafted sarcasm for an entertaining result, Ribeiro said.
“The play is riotous, smart and witty,” Ribeiro said. “It’s a great way to be entertained — much better than, but on almost the same level with a few hours wasted at the pub with a beer and some popcorn.”
Wilde, know as a celebrity and forward-thinker in Victorian-era London, faced a trial regarding alleged perversity in his writings the same year “Earnest” premiered.
During the course of the trial, it was discovered that he had had sexual relationships with men.
Like Wilde himself, the characters in the play embody eccentricity.
Danielle Crook plays the part of Cecily, an aloof and love-struck young woman so intent on marrying any man named Earnest that she concocts a roller-coaster of a romance with one in the pages of her diary.
“Being a comedy, all of the characters have an element of ridiculousness,” Crook said. “But there is truth and relatability in that ridiculousness which audiences will see. The story still applies, and the characters can still be found in society today, for better or worse.”
Costume designer Maria Crush said that the comedy and characters are not the only fascinating aspects of the production.
“We started the process of designing in December, from the costumes to the scenery,” said Crush, a Gail Rich Award winner for excellence in the arts in Santa Cruz. “The amount of time hints at the result. The set is unbelievable, and the costumes are all about big hats, flowing dresses, long gloves. Everything matters in this sort of mannered society, so it’s all there.”
Throughout the show, the décor alternates from act to act, with three fully appointed sets in all.
The plush velvet couches, antique armoires, and an abundance of ornate old-world detailing seen in the first act are replaced with a blossoming country garden, white wicker patio set, and rose-lined cobblestone walkway in the second. As the show builds, so too does the extravagance of the locale.
Each set-change also brings with it a change in mood. The audience can expect the energy of the show, and the characters and story as well, to continue developing right up until the final minute, when a predictable, but nonetheless chuckle-worthy resolution is reached.
Ribeiro expressed hope for all who come out to show their support of theater arts in Santa Cruz.
“The kids have put so much time and energy into the show,” he said. “The hope is that everyone will leave with a sore belly from spending the night laughing and an appreciation for the dedication of every single person.”
_“The Importance of Being Earnest” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Cabrillo College Theater through May 4. Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. For tickets and info, call (831) 479-6331, or visit ticketguys.com._