As I took my seat among a sea of Doc Martens and flamboyantly vintage clothing, I began to feel underdressed for this performance where everything from the audience to the antique couch was stylish, carefully chosen, and, above all, queer.
Tuesday Night Café (TNC) Theatre’s contemporary, lesbian rendition of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy The Importance of Being Earnest brought Wilde’s queer subtext into the spotlight. The colourful script centres on two upper-class dandies who both lead elaborate double-lives in order to split their time between the country and the city. The twist: Both leading male characters are delightfully recast as women for this production. Jack (Maite Kramarz, U3 Arts) resides at his country estate along with her ward, Cecily (Jaimie Coplan, U1 Arts), and uses the alter ego Earnest to sneak off to New York City and cover for her extravagant exploits. On the other hand, Algernon (Celeste Gunnell-Joyce, U1 Arts) relies on her imaginary long-suffering friend Bunbury, whose poor health always requires her to escape into the country.
Kramarz, who plays Jack with a tireless sense of respectability and neuroticism, serves as the perfect foil to Gunnell-Joyce’s Algernon, who hits the flamboyant, Wildean gestures of a do-nothing dandy spot on.
When, by chance, Algernon finds out about Jack’s double life, she realizes that they both engage in what she calls “Bunburying.” She’s determined to infiltrate Jack’s country estate, posing as Jack’s reckless sister Earnest. As both of their lies begin to unravel, their contradictory personalities shine with Wilde’s witty dialogue turning increasingly back-handed.
Throughout the play, the actors handled Wilde’s circuitous language with ease, spitting pointed insults and not-so-subtle digs at society as though it was second nature.
“I was surprised at myself—and I was talking to all my cast members about this—that we were able to remember everything we were supposed to say in all these weirdly twisty lines,” Kramarz said in an interview with The Tribune.
As Jack and Algernon’s double lives crumble around them, Lady Bracknell (Megan Danbrook, MA ‘23) stole the show with her formidable portrayal of an overbearing aristocrat’s vain attempts to maintain an honourable, Victorian facade. The love interests—Gwendolyn (Ellie Mota, U1 Arts) for Jack and Cecily for Algernon—dazzled with their spot-on takedowns of upper-class feminine stereotypes.
After immersing myself in two hours of Wilde’s biting satire—which holds up remarkably well today—I retired to TNC Theatre’s tiny, lime-green office to speak with director Carmen Mancuso (U3 Arts) about the inspiration behind the show.
“When we were choosing a play, we were really looking to find something really iconic and really fun that we could stage in kind of a new way,” Mancuso explained. “One thing that I really loved about [TNC] is that their mandate—their idea—is always about taking [a] traditional part of the canon and flipping it around.”
The Importance of Being Earnest presented a perfect opportunity for this, with its gay subtext begging to burst out of the closet with a more explicitly queer staging. “When I was reading through it, I kept finding moments where it was like […] ‘Oh my God. They sound so gay. This sounds like lesbians I know,’” Mancuso noted.
While Wilde, famously sentenced to hard labour and two years of jail for his homosexuality, had to keep his play anchored within Victorian heteronormativity, TNC Theatre took the opportunity to bring queerness to the forefront by recasting the play with primarily women leads.
“Our dream for something like this is that it’s a way of celebrating what’s in the play,” Mancuso said. “Of bringing out that very obvious—if you can even call it—subtext, and really kind of celebrating that in the open as something that’s alive and there and living.”
Arts and Entertainment Editor Dana Prather is Executive Director of Tuesday Night Café Theatre and was not involved in the publication of this article.