Starting Thursday, April 26, Carroll Community College will take audience members back to the posh world of late-Victorian England just in time to poke fun at it all as they put on Oscar Wilde's classic comedy "The Importance of Being Earnest."
The banter-filled farce centers on a few high society protagonists and the false identities they maintain as they try to navigate and often avoid their social obligations.
For director Richard Sautter, directing the show was a chance to dive into a classic that has been loved by generations, while also finding something fresh to bring to audiences.
The show explores societal themes like leading a double life or presenting to the world a different image of yourself than is truly authentic, he said. It also deals with double standards, like expecting others to behave better than you are able to behave yourself.
"This may make it sound like a very serious piece, which of course it isn't," he said. "Everything is treated very lightheartedly."
The American School of Inspiration is a dance and theater performance school in Damascus that draws students as young as age 10 from Carroll, Montgomery, Frederick and Howard counties. Three times a year, however, the school finds a home in Westminster.
"Wilde is most famous for his wit," he added. "It's been a process of mutual discovery for me and the performers to play with these lines and find a way to express the joy of language from a century ago."
It takes a lot of work to be funny, and the rehearsal process has involved going through some of these 100-year-old jokes — what has stayed funny through the passage of time, and what might need some slight adjustment?
Carroll's production differs slightly from the classic script in that it is set in 1912, about 20 years after it was originally written.
"The roles that women were playing in public and private life [in 1912] were in greater flux than when Wilde wrote the piece," Sautter said. Women's roles in public and private life were thrown into tumult by the suffrage movement.
Visually, this makes the show slightly different than other productions. For those who are unfamiliar, the time period and setting is shared with the early seasons of "Downton Abbey."
Period style is a "particular challenge" for 21st-century actors and designers, Sautter said, but the late-Victorian manners and the language used to express them (and mock them) is central to the nature of the script. The cast and crew, however, have risen to the challenge, he said.
Performers include students, alumni, faculty and local community members of a diverse range of ages. Carroll's Theatre and Entertainment Technology Director Jane Frazier plays the outrageous, snobby and highly quotable Lady Bracknell in her first role on the college's stage.
Nicholas Hartman created costume designs, Anthony Rosas provided set design and Jessica Anderson has provided light design.
"It's been a joy. We've honored the 'community' in Carroll Community College," Sautter added.
Performances will take place in the college's Scott Center Theater, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster, on April 26, 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m.. A closing performance will take place on April 29 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens, and college students, faculty, and staff with ID. They can be purchased online at instantseats.com or at the door beginning 45 minutes before each show begins.
Seating is available approximately 30 minutes prior to the start of each show.