N.C. State University Center Stage will present the New York City-based Aquila Theatre Company’s creative contemporary staging of The Importance of Being Earnest at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, in Stewart Theatre in NCSU’s Talley Student Center. Whimsically subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” this comic masterpiece by celebrated Irish dramatist, poet, and novelist and world-renowned wit Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) has kept audiences around the globe rolling in the aisles since its world premiere on Feb. 14, 1895.

Prior to the performance, Duke University Department of Theater Studies faculty member and well-known independent actor and director Jeffery West will host a discussion about Oscar Wilde at 6:45 p.m. in the Walnut Room of the Talley Student Center.

The Aquila Theatre Company is the professional company-in-residence at New York University’s Center for Ancient Studies. Its first production of an Oscar Wilde comedy will star Richard Willis and Guy Oliver-Watts as Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, two earnest young bachelors for whom deception in matters of finance and matters of the heart has become all too commonplace.

For example, to escape his dull country home, so he can frolic in London, Jack has invented profligate younger brother named Ernest, whom he must travel to London to “rescue” from time to time. Algernon likewise has an imaginary friend, a permanent invalid named Bunbury, whose precarious health regularly provides the young scamp with the perfect excuse to leave London suddenly for frolics in the countryside.

When Jack Worthing comes to London expressly to propose to Algernon’s beautiful cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), his proposal is not well received by her sternly disapproving mother, Lady Bracknell (Kenn Sabberton in drag). Meanwhile, Algernon discovers that Jack has a lovely young ward, Cecily Cardew (Lindsay Rae Taylor), in the country and sets out to meet her.

It is at Jack Worthing’s country home then that the thick web of deception spun by the two young swains gets thoroughly unraveled as false identities are exposed and family skeletons literally come tumbling out of the closet.

This scathing satire of Victorian hypocrisy, produced for the Aquila Theatre Company by Peter Meineck and directed by Robert Richmond, is justly famous for its epigrams. Among the best are:

“If I am occasionally over dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over educated.”

“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

“I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.”

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”

The Aquila Theatre Company’s current traveling production of The Importance of Being Earnest has already earned much praise.

“‘The Importance of Earnest’ is simple, perplexing, paradoxical, and witty,” claims Fred Sokol, theater writer for the Springfield, Massachusetts Union-News. “Sharp, precise Aquila actors, coaxed through Richmond’s specific direction, prove that Wilde’s play is still original and, well, earnest.”

Sokol adds, “The satire features thwarted romance and mistaken identity while delivering a commentary upon British society a century ago or today. Aquila has chosen to set the play in contemporary England. The transposition is both seamless and imaginative. That Wilde’s script worked so well then and now, too, speaks to the writer’s durability.”

In The Bucknellian, the student newspaper of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, senior writer Melinda Kummer adds, “A theatrical endeavor showcasing the wit of Oscar Wilde, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ reveals the reality of its famous line, ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple.’ Reminiscent of Shakespearean theater, the comedy involves misunderstanding, smart quips and, of course, love.”

N.C. State University Center Stage presents The Importance of Being Earnest Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. in Stewart Theatre in NCSU’s Talley Student Center. $28 reserved seating and $23 general admission, except $14 students, $8 NCSU students, and $18.50 NCSU faculty/staff. 919/515-1100. http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/Center_Stage/Aquila%20Theatre.htm (inactive 8/03) or http://www.aquilatheatre.com/wilimofbeine.html [inactive 2/04].