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Off-Strip Productions to present ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

It seems likely that Oscar Wilde would be amused by the venue mounting his last comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

During the initial run in 1895, the author became embroiled in a legal conflict that eventually led to Wilde’s imprisonment for “gross indecency,” which in Victorian England was the term for homosexual acts. On May 23, the play is scheduled to begin a two-week run at the Onyx Theatre, which shares a lobby with The Rack, a clothing store that bills itself as gay-owned.

The play is set in the 1890s and features two young men who fall in love with women, both while using the alias “Earnest.” Complications arise.

Wilde subtitled the play “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” and it is widely regarded as one of his finest works, reveling in the comedy of manners and precise language.

“It’s so specifically written, and the script is verbally technical,” said the play’s director, Brandon Burk. “There are so many great one-liners and plays on words. The actors have to make sure everyone can understand every word but not make it seem forced.”

This is the first time Burk has directed a Wilde play. He is also the artistic director for the Onyx Theatre and the nonprofit Off-Strip Productions, and he chose the play in part because it is a well-known work that he hopes will attract a wide audience. The fact that it’s in the public domain helped also, as that allows him to allocate more budget to the set and costumes.

“Brandon has encouraged the guys in the show to rehearse in jackets and the women to wear skirts to get the feel for movement in period costume,” said Alex Olson, who is playing Jack. “I’ve done scenes from this show before, but this will be the first time doing the whole show. It’s a great opportunity.”

Olson and Burk had the chance to run through lines backstage while they were performing in “Grease” at UNLV. Burk has been mentally living in multiple time periods as he runs the actors through rehearsals of “The Importance of Being Earnest” while acting in the musical set in the ’50s and preparing for the next show he’s directing at the Onyx Theatre, “Cabaret,” set in 1931 Berlin.

“The actors are volunteering their time, and they’ve got other commitments, so we get rehearsals in when we can,” Burk said. “I’ve gotten really lucky with the cast. They’re doing a great job of playing the characters big but keeping them three-dimensional.”

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is scheduled at 8 p.m. May 23, 24, 29-31 and June 5-7 and at 2 p.m. June 1 and 8 at the Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave., Suite 16B. Tickets are $20 and $15 for students, seniors and members of the military. For more information, visit onyxtheatre.com or call 702-732-7225.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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