Whenever Jack Worthing slips away to London from his Hertfordshire estate he says he is going to see his (fictitious) wayward brother “Ernest”. Once there he keeps his privacy by calling himself Ernest - luckily so, as his beloved Gwendolen declares she could only love a man with that name! Her cousin Algernon is the one person who knows Jack's secret and one day he travels down to the estate, announcing himself to Jack's attractive ward Cecily as bad brother Ernest. Cecily is much taken with him and with his name, so on Jack's return home and Gwendolen's unexpected arrival it becomes clear there are both too many and too few Ernests earnestly courting. Getting in the way of potential happiness for all is Gwendolen's mother and Algernon's aunt, the formidable Lady Bracknell.
This wonderfully absurd farce is still considered one of the truly great comedies in the English language almost 120 years after its debut in London. Oscar Wilde's masterpiece, which he called “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”, is a subversive and cockeyed mirror held up to English society in the late Victorian era that still manages to reflect back on us in the 21st century. The need we have to propagate fantasies about ourselves, sometimes private and sometimes public, the ways we can be suppressed by family and societal expectations and morality, no matter how “free” we think we are, the lengths we'll go to gain our heart's desires – we have no trouble recognizing our modern selves in his mirror. We delight in the incomparably witty manner with which Wilde plays out these themes, and yet ultimately we care about his characters' hearts and their happiness. Because beneath the at times blindingly brilliant surface of his creation lies Wilde's true affection for the people who inhabit his mad little world.
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