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Two actors in a scene from The Importance of Being Earnest.

John Worthing, played by John Skelley, and Gwendolen Fairfax, played by Samantha Colburn, in a scene from "The Importance of Being Earnest," a play written by Irish poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde and first performed in London on Valentine's Day in 1895.

Wilde romantic comedy on the Showboat

By Pauline Oo

From eNews, June 9, 2005

When Jack Worthing is bored with life in the English countryside, he escapes to London. But instead of telling his country friends the real reason, he says he's off to visit his brother--the imaginary Earnest. Then there's Algernon Moncrieff, a city fellow, who, when bored with life in London, dashes off to the country. His excuse? He's going to call on Bunbury--a friend who lives only in his mind.

Why the deception? Will they get away with fooling anyone, or everyone, including the women who are crazy about them? What happens when Jack and Algernon meet? How about, when Earnest and Bunbury meet?

The University of Minnesota Showboat Players are bringing Jack, Algernon, Earnest, and Bunbury, as well as the other equally engaging characters from Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" to life on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat in St. Paul this summer. The show, which gives viewers an exuberant portrait of late Victorian upper-crust social manners (especially when it pertains to marriage and morality) promises to entertain with quick-witted banter and farcical antics. The play runs from June 17 to August 27, under the direction of University alumnus Jon Cranney.

"We have a larger artistic team this year than in years past," says Justin Christy, communications manager for the U's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. "The actors are still students and the design work is still also done by students, but this year we have two accomplished alums and more than four other working professionals assisting us. [This set up has provided] more opportunities for learning by allowing our students to work alongside a variety of very experienced people."

Celebrating 75 years of entertainment

The 2005 showboat performance kicks off the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance 75th anniversary season. Alumni from the department have been invited back to direct or choreograph various shows on the Mainstage in Rarig Center on the Twin Cities campus between October and April-among them Raye Birk, who'll direct "The Madwoman of Chaillot" and Tisch Jones's "Las Meninas." For a complete list of performances, see 2005-06 play list.

In addition to Cranney, whose talents as an actor, director, and artistic leader have graced Twin Cities theaters for the last 30 years, Christy says the theater department invited another one of its alums, Rick Polenek, to be part of the show. Polenek is overseeing the production's scenic design. In 2003, the Star Tribune named him one of the "hidden treasures in small theaters."

The Showboat Players have entertained more than 600,000 people with gripping dramas, mesmerizing mysteries, and laugh-out-loud olios (musical interludes) on a docked paddleboat since 1958. The company consists of University of Minnesota students, who are paid competitively for their work as actors, managers, and designers. The Minnesota Centennial Showboat with its 220-seat, Victorian-style, jewel box theater is owned and operated through a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Padelford Packet Boat Company.

Tickets for "The Importance of Being Earnest" cost from $15 to $20. Evening performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinee performances are 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. To buy your ticket, call the Padelford Packet Boat Co. at 651-227-1100 or see www.ShowboatTheater.com.

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