More than the truth will be bent in the CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) interpretation of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” set to go onstage at 8 p.m. in Malibu Hall on March 29, 30 and 31 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Friday, March 30.
Half of the Oscar Wilde classic play will feature women playing female roles and men playing male roles, but after intermission, the play will continue with a gender-swapped version.
“The expectations of a male and female were dictated by Victorian society,” said Performing Arts Lecturer Laura Covault, who directs the show. “What we’re examining with the way we’re putting on the show is the expectations of gender in the Victorian age versus the gender expectations today.”
The theme is topical, Covault said, with Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of Senate Bill 179, the “Gender Recognition Act,” which allows Californians to choose a third, nonbinary option on their driver’s licenses and birth certificates. The law went into effect in 2018.
Covault said the pronouns in “Earnest” were changed, but the play is largely true to Wilde’s original lines so that the audience can consider what a man’s line sounds like coming out of a woman’s mouth and vice versa.
“Women will be proposing to men and men will be taking the more submissive role in the gender-swapped half of the play,” Covault said.
One night, the first act will be gender-bent and the second act traditional, and the next night, the first act will be traditional and the second act gender-swapped. Students from other academic majors are also cast in the play along with Performing Arts majors.
Performing Arts and Psychology double major Annelise Gaetano plays Algernon in the gender swap version. In the traditional version, Algernon is a playful bachelor in love with a woman named Cecily. In the gender swap version, Algernon is a playful bachelorette in love with “Cecil.”
“Usually in plays, when girls fall in love with boys, they’re googly-eyes and head-over-heels,” Gaetano said. “In this version, Cecil is more of the doe-eyed one who falls in love and Algernon is trying to stay in control, not showing his emotions.”
Gaetano said delivering male dialogue in the play has transferred into her life offstage.
“I’ve learned to be more confident in my own life,” she said. “I feel that I’m not as timid and shy as when we started this play.”
Art major Jonathan Zachary, a junior, is the assistant stage manager and also plays the part of Lane, the butler, in the traditional half of the show. In the gender-bent half, he plays Mr. Prism, a male version of Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess and the picture of Victorian propriety.
“He is very studious and very proper and thinks he’s better than everyone else, but tries to hide his big mistakes,” Zachary said.
Zachary said it wasn’t too difficult to deliver lines meant for a female as “I think my own sense of self is not founded in traditional masculine or feminine roles,” he said.
One more twist to the play is the set and costume design, which will be steampunk, a mix of modern and Victorian style rooted in science fiction. The students felt the aesthetic best represented their old versus new twist on the classic tale.
Tickets for CSUCI students are free. Faculty $10.00, General Public $15.00. Tickets can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3339349.