Thursday April 12, 2012 saw the opening night of Colorado State University Theatre’s performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. As an almost sell-out crowd took in the period stage design from the theatre’s opulent red seats, the half shell floor lights illuminated the exquisite silver tea service situated front and center.
Seated in the half-round of the University Theatre, the crowd is almost on top of the performers on stage. This intimidating studio atmosphere would daunt many actors more advanced in years than the students who trod the boards on opening night.
Striding on stage with all the purpose and cheeky disposition of a young Michael Caine, Seth Klusmire immediately won over the crowd with his interpretation of the character Algernon Moncrieff, the play’s lovable rogue.
The impeccable English accent Klusmire affected is all the more amazing since he is a Colorado native. Holding it on stage for the duration of the play appeared to barely tax him.
“Everyday I sat down for fifteen minutes, at least, just to talk with a British accent. Even if it was nonsense like ‘hello, I’m making breakfast,’ little things like that, definitely.”
This devotion to the craft was evident in the sacrifices that Klusmire had made in an effort to further his stage career, often at the expense of his other academic obligations.
“Balance? I’m not sure I balance anything. I’m going to die before the semester is over. I just became a theatre major, I was history education and I just had a test today in one of my history classes and it was rough.”
“You definitely have to make this your number one priority, and if you don’t, that’s going to be bad,” added Klusmire.
Competition had been fierce for all of the parts, and the actors were determined to make the most of appearing in one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous works.
“There is a sign-up list, and anyone can audition for the parts. I think about eighty people signed up,” said Tim Garrity, who stole the show as the acidic and aloof Lady Bracknell.
“There were about ten callbacks for the guys, and you weren’t on the list for Lady Bracknell yet,” laughed Kiernan Angley who played the protagonist of the piece, John Worthing. Opening night doubts about who should have filled the sensible shoes of the snobbish, insensitive Lady Bracknell were instantly vaporized. His delivery of the most famous line in the play, “A handbag?” dripped with all of the vehemence and incredulity that the young actor could muster. Garrity’s performance was so mesmerizing that the crowd almost gave him a standing ovation after his first lengthy monologue.
The fun being had by the actors was evident in the relaxed, assured performances. Obvious, too, was a deep respect for the author of the play, Oscar Wilde.
“I like Oscar Wilde, I like a lot of his writings, he’s just really funny and clever,” said Klusmire.
“It’s just a funny play, it’s not like big drama and theatre. It’s not like, ‘look at this art we’re doing right now, it’s so beautiful, they killed a baby, that means something.’ No, we’re going to eat some muffins and throw things at each other,” laughed Angley.
As the night continued the enthralled audience lapped up the performance. Multiple delays for applause occurred after monologues that seemed to be the pinnacle of the evening’s acting. Until the next monologue that was, as the actors sought to best each other with ever more classic performances.
As the play moved into the third act, set inside the morning room of the Manor House of main character John Worthing, the circuitous route that the play had taken started to arrive at its conclusion.
Members of the crowd who hadn’t seen the play before, or read the play in its entirety gasped as the truth of John Worthing’s heritage was revealed. As the play’s characters all found the ending to the proceedings that they had so desired, once again it came down to Garrity’s Lady Bracknell to upstage all the others. Displaying the pompousness and utter disregard for the suffering of others more commonly associated with the British aristocracy, Bracknell tied up the loose ends of the plot.
As Angley delivered the final lines of the play, the house lights went down and the student actors ran off stage in near pitch darkness. A few seconds later they were back on stage taking the customary bow before a standing ovation from the crowd.
The opening night was a tremendous tour-de-force from a relatively inexperienced cast, setting the bar extremely high for future productions by the Colorado State University Theatre troupe.
© 2013 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved