WILLIAMSVILLE — Themes of class and mistaken identity are being explored by the Rock River Players in taking on Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," highlighting the local theater company's big comedic talents.
Annie Landenberger, director, said the group's production of "The Front Page" last year brought happiness to audiences by making them laugh a lot. Although she considers it her "life's work" to direct Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," she opted for the Wilde play, seeing the need for comedy to cope with the challenges of current times.
Performances will be held at Williamsville Hall on Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, Nov. 6 and 13 at 2:30 p.m. Masking is encouraged. Tickets are available online at rockriverplayers.org.
In the play, the characters Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff "employ fictitious selves to escape burdensome social obligations," according to a news release.
"Their antics, coupled with the nose-in-the-air standards of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn Fairfax, and the somewhat-warped values of Cecily Cardew, " Landenberger states in the news release, "sham the haughty social conventions of Victorian England — as they can our own today.''
Landenberger has now directed more than 90 productions and participated in theater for 62 years.
"This is probably my last big directing gig," she said, wanting to act and write about or for the theater in the future.
She called the cast and crew "amazing."
"It's a play that I love," said Adrienne Major, who performs the role of Lady Bracknell.
Major was not cast in the production when she was in college. This was her first time to audition since then, and she said she's in the right place in her life to play Lady Bracknell.
John Ogorzalek of Dummerston, who plays John Worthing, touted all the one-liners and British humor the show has to offer.
"You got to pay attention to catch them all," he said. "The play is a lot of fun."
Landenberger sees the play as Wilde saying, "All you pretentious knuckleheads, your pretensions are transparent."
Landenberger previously expressed a desire of bringing "new blood" into the Rock River Players, which she founded seven years ago. She said she loves working with young people in theater.
Amy Donahue of South Newfane, one of the newer and younger members who plays Gwendolyn Fairfax, considers language the biggest challenge for the cast. Wilde always "uses five more words than any of us do today," she said.
Donahue is absorbing as many productions of the play as she can find and consuming more British content than usual. The play takes places in London.
Donahue said the production has been fun for the cast as their roles require them to act in ways that differ a lot from their real-life personalities.
Cast as Cecily Cardew, Magdalena Keppel of Brattleboro has acted in Shakespeare plays in youth theater. This marks her first adult community theater production.
"I like that it's a classic," said Keppel, a senior at Brattleboro Union High School. "Bring them back and make them modern."
Keppel is likely the youngest performer to join the Rock River Players, said Landenberger, who directed her as Mary in a pageant at St. Michael's Episcopal Church.
Lighting is being handled by Peter Broussard, who graduated from Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School this year and is studying at Community College of Vermont while working at Rescue Inc. He has performed in plays directed by Landenberger at Leland & Gray including her last one there, "Dracula."
The Rock River Players' mission is "to keep lively arts alive," Landenberger said. She considers live performance part of being human.
"The Importance of Being Earnest" launches the first production of the 2022 to 2023 season for the Rock River Players. Other shows include a cabaret, an evening of one acts, a play by David Mamet directed by Bahman Mahdavi and a musical directed by Pamela Corkey.