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Playmakers puts its own twist on Oscar Wilde’s satire

Ray Dooley plays Lady Bracknell in PlayMakers’ newest play.
Ray Dooley plays Lady Bracknell in PlayMakers’ newest play.

In 1983 actor Ray Dooley played protagonist Jack Worthing in a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Twenty-seven years later, he returns to the play, this time in the rigid dresses of Lady Bracknell.

PlayMakers Repertory Company will lend a twist of hilarity to Oscar Wilde’s comedy classic, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which opens today and runs until March 21.

Wilde’s play, set in the Victorian era, is a witty social satire about three couples trying to find love.

Connie Mahan, director of marketing and communication for PlayMakers, first suggested that Dooley play Lady Bracknell.

The show’s director, Matthew Arbour, agreed that a male actor cast as a female would add to the play’s humor.


Time: 8 p.m. today; continues through March 21.
See Web site for complete performance schedule.
Location: Paul Green Theatre

“Ray playing a female was an experiment,” Arbour said. “What we found was that because we never wanted to set it up so it would be a campy or a draggy performance, I am directing him as though he were a female actor.”

The role of Lady Bracknell has occasionally been played by male actors in theater tradition, and it was not uncommon for men to take on female roles during Shakespearean days, Dooley said.

Though he said he approached this role as he would any other, Dooley found it challenging to wear Lady Bracknell’s corsets, dresses and wigs.

“I’m playing this character as I would play someone of a different nationality or time period,” he said.

But the costume has proven difficult with stiff garments that limit his movement.

“It has given me an appreciation of the burden that this kind of clothing puts on a human being.”

Arbour, like Dooley, is no stranger to “The Importance of Being Earnest.” He directed the show eight years ago.

“The first time, I found it funny in a way,” he said. “I approached it as a close relative to a sitcom or to a cartoon. I treated it more silly. I thought about it more in a broadly comical way.”

Arbour has realized the play is “quite real,” and more sophisticated than he’d originally thought.

“Wilde set out to make a comedy that was driven exclusively by everything we ordinarily take seriously, we should take trivially,” Arbour said.

“He flipped the value system of the world. Because he was writing in Victorian England, the rules of that world were so rigid and limiting.”

Hannah Grannemann, PlayMakers managing director, said the company is putting its own stamp on the play.

“Life is more than a little bit absurd,” Arbour said. “The best possible response to that is to live a bit absurdly. You get a life with possibility — Wilde’s culture was lacking that, and even our culture skips past in a way.”

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