Being E(a)rnest: ‘It’s a play on words, about playing on words’

Algernon Moncrieff, played by Michael Clinkscales, proposes to Cecily Cardew, played by Erica Walling, during rehearsals for The Importance of Being Earnest on Feb. 20 at the Fisher Theater.

Hollie Schlesselman

The name of the game is literally the name in Iowa State University’s theatrical production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

The production, which will make its Iowa State debut this weekend at Fisher Theater, is a farce comedy that was written by the famous playwright Oscar Wilde.

The show takes place in 1895 in London, where John P. Worthing, played by junior Tyler Hupp, and Algernon Moncrieff, played by senior Michael Clinkscales, have fallen helplessly in love with two women.

But Gwendolen Fairfax, played by sophomore Erin Stein, and Cecily Cardew, played by junior Erica Walling, have fallen in love with the men for only one reason: their names. Or rather, the singular name Ernest Worthing, which is what both men have introduced themselves as.

Lying, as it turns out, is a huge conflict in the play.

“It’s so much fun to play characters that like lying so much because it gets them into so much trouble,” Clinkscales said. “Everyone who lies gets caught.”

Hupp, however, doesn’t believe that it was his character’s intention to lie to his love.

“It just so happened to be a convenient tool to earn his significant other’s love,” he said.

He added that if he was trying to earn someone’s love, he would not go so far as to lie to them.

“I like who I am,” Hupp said.  

As for Stein, she wouldn’t change a thing for a potential significant other.

“If someone doesn’t like you because of what your name is, then they are probably not worth your time,” Stein said. “But it’s fun to watch in this play.”

Walling identifies a little more with her character.

“Well, my character, Cecily, is very romantic and very idealistic,” she said. “I’ve definitely had my fair share of sort of idealistic embellished journal entries.

“I would go as far as to write very improbable things in my diary.”

The actors do connect with the meaning behind the name “Ernest.”

To Hupp, the name “clearly produces vibrations.”

“It’s all in the name,” Hupp said. “I mean, ‘earnest’ means being sincere and truthful.”

Stein and Walling said to be “earnest” means to be honest.

Clinkscales, however, believes Ernest is a normal name, one that the women in the story find modest and gentlemanly. 

“I mean, for one, it’s not ‘Algernon,’” he said.

He added that the name is a pun.

“It’s a play on words, about playing on words,” Clinkscales said.

Hupp holds a minimalist viewpoint.

“Honestly, [the name] means nothing,” he said.

The men continued by referring to Wilde and how he liked to “poke fun” at the dating world.

Wilde has a lot of hidden jokes and puns throughout the story.

“I would just encourage people to come in ready to listen,” Clinkscales. “You don’t want to miss a single one of the jokes.”

Hupp said that people who like to gossip or like to hear about it will love the show.

“This is basically an 1890s ‘Gossip Girl,’” he said.

The point of the play is to point out our “silly little rules or deal breakers that people have” when it comes to forming relationships.

“Come in with an open mind,” Walling said. “Make fun of yourself a little bit while you’re watching it.”

Walling said in someway or another, “we’re all like Jack.”

“We’re all kind of selfish or not aware of ourselves … or like Algernon where we’re all a little conceited,” Walling said. 

Stein agreed.

“We can all find parts of ourselves in these characters, she said. “Sure, these characters are a much-exaggerated version of these aspects of ourselves, but they’re definitely parts that we can recognize within these characters within ourselves.”

ISU Theatre’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” will open at 7 p.m. Friday at Fisher Theater. Tickets can be ordered through the Iowa State Center Ticket Office or on TicketMaster